Unknown Author, “The Guileful Wife”, a Kabard Folktale. Part I

This strange tale “The Guileful Wife” (Kovarnaia zhena) comes from the same volume (Vol. 6) of the Sbornik Svedeniy o Kavkazskikh Gortsakh (Digest of Intelligences concerning the Caucasus Mountaineers) as the much more famous “Chechen Tribe” by U. Laudaev, which has been translated and posted on this blog. It comes from Section II of Volume 6, Folktales of the Caucasus Mountaineers, one of four tales grouped as “Kabard antiquities.” The story runs from page 3 to 13 of Section II. I have divided the story for the purposes of this blog and inserted paragraph breaks for the reader.

At a future date I will translate the introduction to section II written by the anonymous “collector”. But for now I will say, the collector believed these tales were of interest for their insights into gender relations in the Caucasus.

Thanks again to Google Books for making this and many other sources available.

The Guileful Wife (Kovarnaia zhena)

[Pages 3-5]

A few young men, having gathered, as was their wont, to sit and chat on a knoll which was located in the middle of [their] aul, began to talk about the deeds of famous horsemen- how much [booty did they take] and from whence they brought back booty, and so on.

One of the young men present, affected by these stories, made a promise to himself to bring back 100 captives and so cause stories of himself to be told among the people. Returning home, he ordered his servants to build a large and strong barn of boards, to be divided into two halves, both with wooden floors. After the construction of the building for the pledged captives, [made] with male and female divisions, Pachabrozhev- [for this was] the surname of the young man- set out to accomplish his aim. Almost without pause, without rest, having returned from his raiding with [his] prey [consisting] of one or two captives, he would sally forth again.

[Once], on his return from one of these expeditions, having consigned the prisoners to his trusty peasant, Pachabrozhev tarried longer than was usual to inquire after the mistress. [The peasant] bolstered by [Pachabrozhev’s] affectionate treatment, and more than this, probably, by the cup of buza[1] given him by the master, begged his indulgence [to relate] the following:

“Your ancestors and mine have always lived together and I myself was born by the threshold of that house in the honorable corner[2] of which you were born. Because of this, following in the footsteps of my ancestors, I have looked on the honor and profit of this house as my own. And so, although you may find it necessary to reproach me, I have decided to tell you plainly that which my loyal heart has found necessary, prompting me [to tell]. You are a singular fellow. You have so much wealth that it ought to be enough to live in luxury and [also be able to] give gifts to your friends. Despite all this, you expose yourself to all kind of dangers, going again and again on aimless raids. Why don’t you want to live in peace, living off your own resources?  And what use do you want to make of this multitude of prisoners of yours, who all this while cause you unnecessary, significant expense?”

The master answered, “I made myself a promise, and can’t take any rest until it is fulfilled.” Not knowing the total number of captives already brought in and thinking that the number had not been reached, the master ordered his peasant to report the total number of captives. He was answered that he was only one short of his quota, i.e. 100. Pachabrozhev rejoiced at this news and quickly rode forth again, ordering his peasant to watch the captives as vigilantly as possible.

Meanwhile, his wife, who had long since become dissatisfied with the frequent and continual absences of [her] husband, had fallen prey to unkind thoughts after his last raid. “I have no lack in either food, clothes or servants,” she thought. “On the contrary, I have a surplus of [all] these. But all these benefits, [all] this wealth is empty, zilch in my opinion because they can’t keep [my] husband with me and I, [who] still [has]a husband, must live like a widow.”

Reasoning in this fashion, she gradually came to think that it would be easy to replace the husband who neglected her with another. Having reached this conclusion, she naturally began to speculate about where she could get herself a lover and settled on [getting one from among] her husband’s captives. Taking a key from the peasant, on the pretext of inquiring of the female captives concerning their needs, she set off to [see] the captives and after a thorough viewing, she selected from among them a handsome, young and mute youth, who she immediately took out of the jail, saying, she would take him into her service. Having led him to her house, she gave him new clothes and ordered him to thoroughly wash and clean up himself and then to put on the new clothes he had been given. Afterward, over the course of three days, she took care of him in the most considerate manner, feeding him the most delectable foods possible, neglecting nothing in order to quickly drive away any dark thoughts that had been generated by his captivity and to quickly restore his strength.

In order to fulfill her devious goal, she explained her intention to the young man, which was, of course, approved and accepted with pleasure [by him]. From this time they began to live as man and wife. Yet the time of Pachabrozhev’s returning from raiding drew near, and the thought that the day of his arrival must needs be the day of separation from the young man, whom she had come to love greatly, prevented Pachabrozhev’s wife’s happiness from being complete. Increasingly, the thought that every day brought [her] husband’s return nearer beset his wife, who finally began to think about how [she] could get rid of [her] husband. One night she asked her love, who was intoxicated with her caresses, if he would do anything she would order [him]. She was answered of course, he was ready to do anything that was possible for a man [to do]. Then she revealed her intention of getting rid of [her] husband and then explained to him the plan she had come up with:

“He has a shashka, which he closely guards, saying that it is very precious. I don’t know whether he acquired it himself or it came down to him from his ancestors. The shashka resembles none that I have ever seen before. When he takes it from the chest during the daytime, it darkens like a black snake, [but] at night it shines brightly.  According to [my] husband, this shashka cuts everything equally easily, even stone or iron. The person in whose hands comes this shashka, even if he possesses the smallest amount of manhood, determination and courage, can assail any sort of renowned warrior that he pleases. My husband normally returns from all [his] raids at night, when all lying down, and I alone go out to open the gate. After taking a prisoner off his hands, I usually leave, and he, leading [his] horse, closes the gate himself. If you agree to my plan, when I go out to answer his call, you, with the shashka in hand, come behind me and stand behind the gate. As soon as he comes through the gate, you can attack him without any risk on our side and achieve [our] goal. For the success of [this] assassination [you] must not lose [your] focus and [you must] attack suddenly to insure that he doesn’t have the time to collect himself. Otherwise, it will be difficult to deal with him [if he has] the slightest [warning] of your attack.” The youth promised to follow her instructions completely.

[1] Blogger’s note: This is a mildly alcoholic drink, it has been suggested that it is a cognate for the English booze.

[2] Blogger’s note: The honorable corner, an Orthodox tradition, seems a bit incongruous here because this story is about Kabards, who were presumably Muslim at the time of this story. Did they also have a tradition of a holy or honorable corner?



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