A Journey in Southern Siberia, by Jeremiah Curtin, , at sacred-texts.com
TO a forest at the foot of a mountain came a man seventy years of age and a woman who was sixty. They cleared a small space there, and the man cut down trees to build a yurta. When the yurta was finished they lived in it, and soon the old woman gave birth to a son who was silver below the waist and gold above it.
In two days after his birth the skin of a two-year-old sheep was too small for the boy. In three days the skin of a three-year-old sheep was too narrow for him.
The two old people had a very scant living. They had only one cow, and the cow had not milk enough for that boy three days old. The father and mother began to scold their young son.
"What a glutton thou art!" said they.
In five days the boy said to them, "I am your only child, and ye are not able to nourish me; what would you do if there were two or three other sons?"
"Such as thou art there can never be. To pour milk on the ground or give it to thee is all one. Thou hast never enough, no matter how much we may give thee."
"Ye are mistaken," said the boy; "a bigger glutton than I am may be given to you. Ye grudge me milk from a cup, but if one were born who would eat your cow up what would ye say then?"
He drew from his mother's breast also.
"When I drink a little from the breast I am satisfied," added the boy.
"Though young, he understands," said the parents in alarm. "Let us throw him out! Let us be rid of him!"
"Throw me out if ye wish," said the boy, "but if ye do that, take me far away to a mountain; do not throw me out near by. There, far away, I will ask food of the Heavenly Burkans."
The father and mother thought their son was making sport of them beyond forgiveness and that they must get rid of him.
"Oh, an evil, a very evil child was born to us!" said the father and mother.
A lofty mountain stood opposite. The father took his son to that mountain and left him on the summit. The child cried for one half of twenty-four hours, then turned to the thousand Heavenly Burkans, and asked:
"Why make parents who will not nourish me? Since ye have made them who have thrown me away, give me food and clothing, give me a horse and an outfit." He cried till he fell asleep. When he woke the next morning he was in a room in a strange yurta. Many people were there, and herds of horses, and many cattle were pasturing on the meadow near by. The boy went out, looked around, came back, and passed a second night.
When the father took his son to the mountain the child could not walk. The next morning the parents, looking at the mountain and wondering what had become of the boy, noticed the beautiful yurta and marveled that it had appeared there in one night.
"Some enemy of ours has come, surely to kill us in the end," said they. "Let us go up to the mountain. Let us give an offering to the Burkans. Our son must be dead by this time."
They did not go to the mountain; they made no offering to the Burkans.
The boy stayed nine days and nights in his yurta; he walked through all the rooms in it. On the night after the eighth day he found a book. This book, which was as big as a common door, had fallen in through the smoke-hole. The boy read the book, and understood all. It was written that he would be a great khan. It was also written what land would be under his power, and his name, Altin Shagoy, was given there. He read three and a half nights and as many days as nights. In the book it was stated that all his people and all his herds were in good condition.
Soon Altin was as if ten years of age, and he said, "Now I must count all my people, my cattle, and my herds of horses."
His mother now gave birth to a second child, a real glutton, a terrible eater. People brought word to Altin that his father and
mother had a daughter, that they had killed their one cow to feed her, and were suffering from want,—that his mother was dying of hunger.
Altin commanded to drive ten bullocks to his father's yurta, and he went himself with the men who drove them. He helped to prepare meat for his mother, then took her and his father and sister to his own yurta.
"Ye thought me a glutton when ye threw me out," said he, "but now ye have a real glutton."
The young sister was terrible; she cried, cried night and day, and when not crying she was drinking milk. Altin read in his book, and found that the child must be named and have a cradle. He called together the people, gave a great feast, and had his sister named with proper ceremony. She was quiet after that, she cried no more; her father and mother had peace and rest.
"I must count my cattle," said Altin, when he was the size of a boy thirteen years of age. His steed, given by the Burkans, was on the mountain Tiphen Ulan Hada. He went to that great mountain on foot, reached the base of it, climbed and climbed. At last he stopped, for he could go no farther. He turned into a falcon then and flew up,—flew for three days, flew till he came to the summit.
On that mountain stood a golden-trunked, silver-leafed aspen tree. At the foot of that tree the Water of Life gushed forth. The horse was not there. Altin drank water, turned into a reed and waited. At midday the horse came to drink. On the horse was the whole outfit of a hero.
It never rains on that mountain and never snows there. When the horse come toward the spring he stopped on a sudden, before touching the water. "What is this?" asked he. "There is an odor of flesh here. It smells of man. No man should be in this place."
The horse did not know that his master was born yet. "No man but my future master has the right to be here," said he, looking around everywhere. Seeing no one, he began to drink. From the reed Altin became himself and seized the bridle. The horse was so frightened that he ran and dragged Altin, dragged him a day and a night, around that great mountain.
"If thou wish to kill me," said Altin, "kill me quickly. If thou wish to save, stop at once. If not I shall be dizzy and die very quickly."
The horse stopped, and Altin mounted. Unused to being ridden, the beast rushed away, ran one day and one night around that flat-topped red mountain. At last, after twenty-four hours, running, the horse said, "Now I am ready for the saddle."
"What magic hast thou?" asked Altin.
"I have this magic. If one puts a cup of milk on the fire I can run three times around the world before it boils. What strength hast thou?"
"I am so strong that none can conquer me. How are we to go down this mountain?"
"Shut your eyes," said the horse. "Hold fast, very fast to the saddle, bind both your ears with a kerchief. If you do not your head will be dizzy. I will go back one mile, run with all my speed, spring into the air, and alight on the earth safely."
When they were ready the horse went back, then rushed toward the edge of the mountain. Altin held fast, heard nothing, felt nothing, and found himself at home on his own mountain, right in front of his yurta. He tied the horse to the hitching-post; then he saw his sister. She was walking already. "Whence hast thou come, brother?" asked she, and she went toward the horse.
"Come not near this horse," said Altin; "he might kill thee."
"Why should the horse kill me? I ought to be friendly with my brother's steed."
She walked around, looked at the horse carefully, then went to her father and mother. "Oh, my brother has a fine steed," said she. "He is fat and big and must be very strong."
The father went out, and when he saw the horse he was so terrified by his size that he fell to the ground without sense. When he recovered he was so weak that he could not rise; he crawled into the yurta on his hands and knees.
Altin drank, sat on his horse, and rode to count his herds and his cattle. He drove all the animals into an immense meadow, counted them for three days and nights, but could not finish. On the fourth day he discovered that three years before the best
mare in his herd had had a colt; that colt was gone. They searched for bones to see if a wolf had eaten the colt, but could find none.
At last on the north side of the meadow they found a trail. A thief had stolen the colt. Three brothers lived off in that direction, and Altin thought that they had taken it; so he rode to their yurta and tied his horse to their hitching-post. The post would not stand, came out of the ground. Altin took an arrow, thrust it into the earth, and tied his steed to it. Then he went into the yurta and upbraided the three brothers, stamped with his feet till their yurta was quivering.
"Did ye think that that colt was without an owner?" shouted he. "How did ye dare to take what was mine?"
He went out of the yurta then and saw his colt in a pen with two other young horses. The colt was tremendous to look at, immense, like Altin's own saddle horse. The three brothers spoke up now very boldly.
"Shout not so loud!" said they. "If you wish war we are ready. There is a place not far from here called Taimi Sagán Her (Open White Steppe). On that steppe are five very large pine trees; there we can see who is the strongest."
Altin mounted immediately and rode to that place. He made a fire, let out his horse, and lying down to rest, fell asleep. That minute he turned into stone. The three brothers followed Altin and said to one another as they traveled, "If he is sleeping we will finish him quickly."
They found him lying on the ground asleep, and they shot at him with three arrows. Altin made no move. He woke, took his own form, and thought that fleas from the dust had been biting him. Seeing the brothers, and finding the arrows by his side, he inquired:
"What kind of persons are ye, who try to kill a man while he is sleeping? Ye will never be able to do that to me, for when I am asleep I am stone. How have ye planned to attack me,—all three at once, or one after another? Will ye meet me with arrows or with wrestling?"
"I will go against thee alone," said the elder brother. "We will wrestle and we shall see who is stronger, thou or I."
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GODS WHICH GUARD THE HOUSE FROM THE OUTSIDE
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BURIAT GODS, OR REPRESENTATIONS OF THEIR GODS OUTSIDE ONGONS.
That moment Altin seized the boaster by the back of the neck, whirled him three times around his own head, struck a pine tree with his body, and killed him. The second brother came now. Altin treated him in the same way; killed him as he had his brother. Next came the youngest. He was very strong, almost the equal of Altin. The two struggled three days and three nights. Each bit away all the flesh from the front of the other's body and tore off all the flesh from his back. They made ditches in the ground with their feet as they wrestled. Crows and magpies flew in from the north and the south, carried the flesh away, and ate it.
On the fourth day Altin threw the third brother, who before death spoke these words: "In vain have I fought with thee, but I fought for the sake of my brothers." Then he died.
Altin pulled up three pines by the roots and burned the three brothers. He went then to their yurta, turned it bottom upward, and took all their people, property, and cattle, and went with his own three horses to his yurta on the mountain.
"I have counted my horses and colts," said he to his father.
"All is finished; I will go now and seek a bride for myself."
"Thou shalt do that," said his father and mother. "We are old; it is time for thee to marry."
For three days Altin read in his book. "Gal Núrman Khan, thy bride's father, lives in the far South," said the book. "His daughter's name is Gagurái Nugún; she is thy bride."
Gal Núrman let no one come near him, and never slept day or night except a moment just before daybreak; how was Altin to go to such a man, how was he to leave his sister, how was he to leave his father and mother, who were old now and helpless? He collected the people to ask advice of all who were above ten and less than fifty years of age. He put out food and drink and told what he wanted. "I am going," said he, "to find a bride. What man will manage while I am gone?"
One old sage, eighty years of age, who chanced to be there, said: "Though I am old, I have wisdom. This is my advice: take a lettered man from the people; let him manage in thy place."
"Where can I find such a person, a good man?" asked Altin.
No one spoke, till at last the old man said: "I have a son of twenty years who knows seven languages. He may manage the country for thee."
Altin sent three horsemen to bring him. "The khan asks you to come," said the messengers. The young man was in one shirt; "I am khan for myself," said he. "I owe your khan nothing; I taught myself with my own father's means, I took nothing from any man, I am not in debt to any one. But since the khan calls I will go." He put on a black shuba, black trousers, a cap, and fishskin shoes; then he went to Altin, who came out to meet him, took him by the hand, and led him into the yurta. "What wilt thou eat?" asked Altin. He had drink placed before the young man, and next the book which he himself had read.
"If thou finish this book in three days," said Altin, "I shall believe that if thou art here in my place it will be as well as if I were here myself. If thou canst not finish, it will be worse."
The young man began to read. He finished in season.
"Thou art wise," said Altin. "Thou art here now in my place, and I will leave thee. When I come back thou wilt go to find a bride for thyself."
"I cannot stay here," said the young man. "My mother is seventy years old and my father is eighty. Who will nourish them? I have no brothers."
"Bring thy father and mother to this place," said Altin; "be my brother."
"My father's yurta and my own affairs are dearer to me than all other things," said the young man. "I had never a thought to leave them."
"I am going away for nine years," said Altin. "Leave thy parents at home and visit them from time to time. Send them food and clothing. Take from my things whatever may be lacking in thy yurta."
The young man consented, not wishing to offend Altin Khan.
"I am satisfied," said Altin. "But when I am away I need to know that thou art well. Canst thou give me a sign?"
The young man gave his own silver ring. "If I am well and
in health," said he, "the ring will glitter. If I die it will fall into two parts. Give me a sign also."
"I will show thee thy dwelling-place first," answered Altin, "and then give thee a sign." After he had showed him a yurta aside, he gave him an arrow and said: "Keep this arrow carefully. If I die it will rot. If I live it will be as it now is."
Altin was ready to mount when on a sudden he thought of something he had forgotten, and called out, "I have not summoned the people to wish me good fortune." He summoned them, then placed out meat and drink in plenty. They gave good wishes, and he went toward the South, unattended.
"I can go mightily if you wish," said Altin's steed. And he rushed forward like a strong wind. Soon he was at the boundary. The sun was high when Altin left home, but he was on the boundary at midday. Taking tobacco, he smoked. "We can work well together," said he to his steed.
About evening they came to three roads, and a yellow fox crossed before them. "How dost thou dare to cross my road?" called out Altin, as he let fly an arrow, which cut the fox in two. The hind part sank in the earth and cried to Altin:
"I shall tell the Heavenly Tengeris what thou hast done to me." And the head and fore part flew to the sky.
Altin rushed forward rapidly, but if he did a heavenly hero came down from the sky and stood before him. This hero's name was Tiyil Büge Tengeri. He rushed straight at Altin, struck him across the breast, cut him in two, and seizing the upper part flew to the sky with it; the lower part he left where it fell.
"I did this," said he, while flying, "because thou hast killed my one daughter. I sent her to earth on no evil errand; she went to find and dig lily roots."
When his master was gone Altin's horse stood still and dropped tears. "Cry, or not cry," said he at last, "I must do something." And he changed himself to a falcon. "I will go now," thought he, "and ask the one who made me why my master has been killed. That wretched fox cuts the road to people; what right has she to cause a man's death? I will make her take up to heaven what is left of my master."
The falcon flew to the sky, straight to Zayasha Zayan Tengeri, who had made him, and told what had happened. "There will be a council," said Zayasha, and he sent at once for the thousand Heavenly Burkans.
"Who dared to kill the man whom I made?" asked he, when all the thousand Burkans were assembled the next morning at daybreak. They told him, and then summoned Tiyil Bilge and sentenced him to bring the lower half of Altin's body to the sky. "Thou hast not done right," said they; "thy daughter was to blame altogether. She has led an evil life on earth and has no right to cut across people's roads."
Tiyil Bilge went down to the earth and got the lower part of Altin's body three days after he was killed. It was still there near the cross-roads.
Altin's sister came to the sky now; she complained bitterly, and asked the Burkans who had dared to kill her brother.
Tiyil Bilge took the two parts to the heavenly smiths. Seven days and nights they worked over Altin. Hardly could they bring him to his right form again. They could not put the breath back; the thousand Burkans had to do that, and start life anew in him. Then Altin commanded his sister to go home without delay. She turned into a raven and flew to the earth.
"Must I fight with any one on the way?" asked Altin, as he left the Burkans.
"No, thou wilt go forward with good fortune," said they. "Thou wilt go to thy father-in-law. Opposite his yurta, on a very high mountain, is a golden aspen. There is Water of Life at the foot of that tree, and on the top of the tree sits a white cuckoo as big as a horse's head. This bird knows all that is done in the sky, everything thought out there by the Burkans. She can bring the dead to life and give riches to poor people; she has immense wisdom, this cuckoo. Drink of that Water of Life, give some to thy horse, and ride forward next morning. From here to that mountain are golden stairs." Altin reached the mountain and never stopped till he stood by the golden-trunked aspen tree. He dismounted, then drank of the water, gave some to his horse, made a fire, and ate silver leaves
from the aspen. Whoso ate of those leaves was not hungry or cold thereafter.
Altin looked straight south and saw the immense yurta of his father-in-law. It was a whole mile in length, enormous in size, and so high that its roof touched the sky. He slept well that night, and rising very early, went down the mountain to the great yurta. He rode up, tied his horse to the hitching-post, and hurried in. Gal Núrman had just risen. Altin walked up to him and said:
"A greeting from me to thee, father-in-law."
"What sort of a fellow art thou, who hast come to me without invitation?" asked Gal Núrman. "How hast thou dared to appear here? No one may come to me, either on foot or on horseback!"
"Thy daughter is to be my wife. This has been settled by the Heavenly Burkans and depends on them."
"If that is true," said Gal, "thou canst see her. She is beyond seventy-seven doors; go to her."
The doors were of iron, strong and heavy. With a kick Altin opened each door. When he reached the seventy-seventh chamber a maiden was sitting there. She was very beautiful, she shone as the sun shines in the day and the moon shines during night hours.
"How didst thou open the doors?" asked she. "No one has ever before had strength to open them. My father has never let any one pass. How didst thou pass?"
"I am Altin Shagoy; thou art my bride; that was fixed by the Heavenly Burkans, and recorded in my book of life. I have seen thy father, and he sent me to hear what thy wish is."
"I do not credit thy book," said the maiden. "I know not if thou art telling me truth or art lying. Perhaps thou hast come for my beauty, with the desire to deceive me. As to my father I do not trust him in anything. Art thou really to be my husband? But I will read in my book and discover."
She had in her bosom a small book, the size of a man's palm. She took it out and read: "Thou art to marry Altin Shagoy." When she read that she commanded to bring food and drink and began to entertain Altin.
In the morning Gal Núrman cried outside Altin's door. "Thou art sleeping long!" Altin went out to his father-in-law. "Why sleep so long?" asked the khan.
"I came from afar and was weary; why should I not sleep?"
Gal Núrman entertained Altin, and then sent him back to his bride in the seventy-seventh chamber. At sunrise on the second day Altin rose and went out immediately.
"Why sleep so long?" inquired the father-in-law. "Didst thou not rest? Couldst thou not rise earlier?"
"When I am tired I am more tired the second than the first day."
"Come and drink and eat with me," said the khan. "I am going to give thee my daughter, but I have a yellow dog on a distant mountain. If thou bring that dog, thou canst take her to thy yurta; if not, thou'lt not get her."
Altin went to his bride, consulted with her, asked her how he was to get the yellow dog.
"No one can get that dog," said she. "Better go back to thy yurta. Many and many a bridegroom has come here and lost his life in trying to bring that yellow dog to my father."
"I think that thou wilt aid me in getting the dog."
"How can I aid thee? I can do so only in one way. Through my magic thou wilt be able to live without sleeping."
"I shall go in every case," said Altin, "and shall bring back the dog."
He went then to Gal Núrman, and said, "I am going for thy dog." And he rode away northward very swiftly, never stopping till he came to the Black Sea. There, near the coast, was a single great pine tree. On the tree were three beautiful maidens; the first one was crying, the second was laughing, the third was singing.
"How is this?" asked Altin. "Why are your minds so different?"
"We are the daughters of Khan Herdik Shubun (eagle). Our father warred three years with Mogoi Khan. At the end of that time Mogoi broke our father's wings. We sent him to be cured at a place on a distant mountain. Now Mogoi Khan wants to eat us while our father is gone. He will come to-day
and eat my sister who is crying, to-morrow he will eat my sister who is singing, and the third day he will eat me."
"Where does Mogoi Khan live?"
"In Hara Dalai (the Black Sea), directly opposite. When he comes out the whole sea roars and rages. He has two heads, and one great eye in his chief head. That eye is as big as the moon. If thou canst send an arrow into it thou wilt kill him immediately. But to send such an arrow is terribly difficult. If it brings back even one drop of blood thou wilt die, without rescue."
"Leave this place, save yourselves!" said Altin. "Do not wait for him." They would not move; they stayed there. Altin left his horse in the field near the pine tree, and went on foot toward the sea, taking with him his bow and arrow. Near the place where Mogoi was to come out of the sea Altin became a reed. Soon the sea began to roar and rage, and he saw Mogoi Khan coming. Altin drew his bow, and aimed at Mogoi's one eye.
"Bring not back a drop of blood, wipe thyself clean," said Altin to the arrow.
The arrow went straight into the eye, and tore Mogoi Khan's head into many small pieces. The arrow did not return. It could not, it was bloody.
Altin took his own form, and ran back to the three sisters, ran swiftly. But Mogoi Khan was terribly poisonous. All Altin's hair fell off, and for one mile around each spear of grass withered up.
"I have conquered your enemy," said Altin to the sisters.
"Whither art thou going?" asked they.
"I did not come to save you," said Altin, "but to get the yellow dog for Gal Núrman Khan. I wish to see your father, Khan Herdik; perhaps he can help me." They made no answer at first; then the eldest sister said:
"I should be thy wife, but since thou art wooing the daughter of another khan it would not be proper to talk of that. But remember, I will be thy son's wife. Our father is helpless and cannot aid thee in any way."
Altin rode to that mountain from which golden stairs reach
the sky. He went up those stairs on his steed, went to the heavenly smiths for hoofs, chains, and fetters. "We have no time to make those things," said one of the smiths. "We work always for Esege Malan."
"May thy bellows burst! May thy hands not rise! And be thou crooked!" cried Altin in a rage. All happened as he said. He went to each one of the other smiths, got the same answer always, and cursed them all in the same way.
The first and second and third smith cried: "Come back! Come back! Recall thy evil words, and we will do whatever is thy wish."
He restored them, and they worked quickly, made everything well, made all that he asked for. Altin took the hoops, chains, and fetters, went down the golden stairs on horseback, and went then to the mountain where the yellow dog lived.
Five days and nights was Altin climbing that great mountain. He was thinking always: "Which is the better time to seize the dog, morning or evening?" Just before daybreak he reached the summit of the mountain. He put his horse in his pocket as a flint chip, became a raven, and going in search of the dog, found him sleeping.
"If I am well, let all these chains, hoops, and fetters fasten to him!" chanted Altin, as he asked aid of the Burkans. That moment all those chains and fetters were on the dog. The dog woke up, fettered. He sprang, ran, pulled. No good in all that! He could do nothing; he was bound beyond loosening. The raven was there near him as he struggled. "I have heard that Altin is born," said the dog. "He must have come. He must be here; no one else could do this to me!"
"Altin has come indeed," said the raven. "I am he."
"Let me off," begged the yellow dog. "I will go with thee, or dost thou wish to kill me? Free me. Let us be friends."
Altin took his own form and mounted his steed. He let hoops and fetters drop and led the dog by the chain. He was near Gal Núrman's when he met two men on the road. The two said:
"Let the dog loose. That is Gal Núrman's command; he has sent us to meet thee."
"Gal Núrman would not believe me if I went to him without
the dog; he would make me go again on this long journey. Ye must be strange people and think me very simple. Eat up those two men and their horses!" said Altin to the yellow dog.
The dog ate them straightway.
Altin reached the yurta of Gal Núrman, tied his steed to the hitching-post, tied the dog to the right corner of the yurta, and went to his father-in-law.
"I have brought the yellow dog," said he. "Come and look at him."
Gal Núrman looked out of the door, saw the dog, and was so frightened that he fainted and lay there without motion. Altin shook him till he brought him to his senses. "See what thy valor is," said Altin; "thou art afraid to even look at the dog. I went to him, captured him, brought him to thee. The dog has a dreadful appetite; he can eat up all thou hast, destroy all thy property in one day."
"Thou hast brought the dog, now thou must get rid of him. He may eat up all my people!" said Gal Núrman, in great alarm.
"Have the wedding to-morrow, and I will send the dog home."
"I will have it," replied the khan.
Altin gave the dog one half of an ox, and said, "Eat well and go back to thy mountain."
"Call the people together," said Altin. "Let the wedding be to-morrow, for I must hurry home." Then he went to his bride.
"Where wert thou? What hast thou seen and done?" asked she.
He told her how he had climbed the golden stairs, how he had got chains, hoops, and fetters of the heavenly smiths, had fettered the yellow dog, and brought him to her father.
"Thou hast said nothing about the three sisters on the pine tree. When shooting the arrow thy command to it was to return to thee. Why did it not come back? I know about those sisters and what they said. One said that she would be thy son's wife."
The next day was the wedding. There were many people, and
they had much meat and drink. Ravens and magpies had their fill.
On the fifth day Altin and his bride were at his own yurta on the mountain. And then the young man whom he had left in charge went for his bride; but that is another story.