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

The Guileful Wife (Kovarnaia zhena)

[Pages 8-13]

A few days before the time was up, Pachabrozhev’s wife invited over three impoverished relatives of [her] husband. [They were] hungry, ragged and willing to venture anything for a piece of bread. She ordered them to sharpen [their] kindjals well, saying that if they obeyed her, she would provide them with the means to live comfortably. The agreement between husband and wife had gone on for a month and only a few days remained, yet Pachabrozhev still hadn’t mentioned anything about the bet. The wife, who also wasn’t in any rush, being fully confident that [her] husband couldn’t guess, said finally, “Well, have you truly forgotten about our argument? Why haven’t you said if you could guess what the cup was made of or asked if your time was up?” “Yes, I completely forgot,” answered [her] husband. He continued, “And I can’t guess at all what the cup was made from. I confess that I lost, ask for [whatever] you wish!” “In that case, I must tell you regretfully that I put too much confidence in your wisdom and perceptiveness, I bound myself with a rash promise, of which I now repent, but which must be fulfilled.” She then told [him] that she had sworn that in the event she won she would order [her] husband killed. Although he was dear and very precious to her, God was more precious, and she therefore wouldn’t dare to draw down His wrath on her, so she was obliged to be faithful to her oath. In the end, she demanded that if he valued his own words and God’s, he would voluntarily disarm and submit to his three kinsmen, who would not, of course, hesitate to slay him in fulfilment of God’s will for him. Pachabrozhev was amazed and didn’t believe what he had heard. But the haste and insistence with which she demanded he fulfill the oath soon convinced him that all he had heard wasn’t a prank. It was too late, however, to object to anything. The promise, although fraudulently made, had to be fulfilled. Asking no questions, he placed all his weapons in front of himself and said [he was] ready and awaited her orders. She immediately related this information to the three kinsmen, to who she had already told her intentions, and who had agreed with such willingness and readiness to slay their rich kinsman, with which such [feeling] as they would have never answered any other request of [their] female in-law. They backed Pachabrozhev against a fence, circling him with drawn kindjals.

As they glanced back and forth among themselves, [to see] who would be the first to make a move and start the killing, several honorable elders appeared from around a corner. Seeing Pachabrozhe surrounded by his kinsmen, whose intentions were clear, they came forward in a group and asked Pachabrozhev what was the meaning of this. Why would he, who was held in esteem for his ability to handle anything and [for being] the best of a multitude of riders, do nothing with these sorry fellows? [What] had brought him to this pass? “It’s useless to think about it,” he answered. “I made a promise and am obligated to fulfill it. The kinsmen explained to the elders that Pachabrozhev had engaged in a month-long bet, [for which it was necessary] to answer one question, and that in the event of his losing was obligated to fulfill [his] promise in its entirety. “And as he hasn’t answered the question, he has to fulfill our wishes,” they added and told the elders to go on their way and not interfere in their business. “No,” replied the elders.” “We don’t accept the promise, as did Pachabrozhev, and we will not allow such a renowned and brave man to perish at the hands of such dishonorable and useless people as you [people]. At the very least, we will give him a term of 15 days more to answer the question. If he doesn’t guess at the end of this period then God’s will be done,” resolved the elders. There was nothing for it, the kinsmen had to reluctantly wait another 15 days for the outcome [of the bet].

No matter how Pachabrozhev racked his brain, he was in the same predicament up to the last day of the reprieve granted by the elders. He couldn’t figure out what the cup was made from. He once again presented himself to his wife, confessing his powerlessness, and she handed him over to the hands of his hungry kinsmen. But at the moment, when they had pulled out their kindjals, rejoicing that now nobody could help him, there appeared before them Prince T., the ruler of the aul. Learning of the business, [which] he didn’t tolerate, he gave Pachabrozhev another 15 days on his own authority as had been done on the elders’ authority. It was impossible to disobey [the prince], [and so the kinsmen] again postponed [the killing] for 15 days.

Pachabrozhev fell into a deep gloom, believing he could expect no mercy from his wife, and not knowing how he could escape from her grasp. Only one thought ate at him day and night. He became indifferent to everything else, forgot about his horses and weapons, [and] didn’t desire his wife, who had become hateful for him.

He also became completely indifferent to his appearance. He moped about, deep in his own thoughts, in the courtyard, [his] fields and in the neighborhood in front of his kunaks, wearing a long, unbelted coat, and no leggings. Five days before the end of the period granted by the prince, Pachabrozhev, as was his habit, went out into the steppe. Having ridden about a little, he sat under a wicker [fence?] that was located at a cemetery near his home.

Deep in thought about the cup, he didn’t even notice that a kitten, which was running across the steppe, had sat on his coat and fallen asleep. He [unknowingly] followed the example of the kitten [and lay down to sleep]. Suddenly, he heard a voice, saying to him “Hey Pachabrozhev! Ain’t it a shame for a man to be so despondent!” Amazed, Pachabrozhev quickly gazed around in a circle, but seeing nobody, went back to sleep. Not long after, [however], he heard the same voice calling him. Looking about carefully, he saw a rat on a bump of earth,[1] which yelled at him, “see to what lies sleeping on your coat, and I’ll tell you something of interest to you.” Pachabrozhev hastened to catch the kitten by the neck. The rat then continued, “Hey Pachabrozhev, men like you don’t lose heart so quickly! It also needs to be said that you should count up all your gold and captives and what has become of your precious shashka. Hey Pachabrozhev, hold fast that thing that sleeps on your coat, and I’ll tell you some interesting news.” The rat then chronologically told Pachabrozhev how his wife had taken a lover from among his captives, how this lover was killed, how she dug up the skull and had it made into a silver cup, the [riddle of the] origin of which was now afflicting Pachabrozhev’s brain. During his entire story, the rat never took its gaze off its enemy, and, at possible moments, to hasten to remind Pachabrozhev to grasp better that thing which was sleeping on his coat. Having related its wealth of news and asked [Pachabrozhev] a final time to guard its enemy well, the rat quickly disappeared. Recovering himself in short order after the revelation, made him by the rat, Pachabrozhev quickly stood up and headed home, hurling the kitten, which he had already throttled, a long way off. Unconsciously, during the rat’s story. he had squeezed [the kitten] with all his strength each time the rat had reminded him [to hold it fast].

His wife, seeing [her] husband’s return from afar, guessed that something had changed with him, and grew frightened, thinking, “Unhappy me, that rogue husband [of mine] has thought up with something, [and. Not to the good has his gait changed and his face returned to its [normal] color.” At the same time, Pachabrozhev went into the bedroom, stripped the coat, ordered new clothes brought and changed. Then, ordering his horse to be saddled quickly, went to Prince T., the ruler of the aul. There were people at the Prince’s house, who grew surprised seeing Pachabrozhev coming to the Prince’s receiving room.[2] What could bring him there, who never usually visited the prince, to whom they hastened to warn about this unusual, in their opinion, occurrence and to ask if [Pachabrozhev] would be received. The Prince ordered him to be received as cordially as possible. “There has never been any sort of enmity between us or cause [for any], why would [I] chase him from [my] door if he has never visited me up till now and [if he] has taken it in his head to come to me, it’s his business,” explained the Prince.

Pachabrozhev didn’t have [time] to come to the [Prince’s] receiving room. As a few young men were taking [Pachabrozhev’s] horse off his hands, the Prince himself came out to meet him and escorted him back to the receiving room. Here the Prince treated him with great affection, ordering a cup of buza and snacks brought to him. Finally, Pachabrozhev informed [the Prince] that he had business with him and asked the people in the receiving room to leave them alone for a short while. “Previously, I often found fault with you,” he told the Prince, when they were left alone.  “Your indulgence towards me has caused me to rethink things, and in recognition of this, [I see] the fault was mine and I regret my previous haughtiness, which can’t be justified. I ask you to accept my oath that I henceforth intend to serve you as one of your most faithful and devoted followers.” The Prince gratefully accepted the offer from his erstwhile obstinate vassal and expressed his desire to make the same oath, to treat him faithfully, like a blood brother. [Whereupon] the requisite oaths were [made and] accepted.

Pachabrozhev said, “Now [please] permit me to explain my request. On that day, when you came across me, surrounded by my kinsmen, when you generously interceded for me, having forgotten my offenses [against you]. The reason why I was in such a state hasn’t been explained to you in full. I was fulfilling a bet with my wife, not my kinsmen, and here are the circumstances which brought it about…” He then told everything, adding “She was sure of winning, but God didn’t favor her triumph. And now, having solved the riddle by chance[3] and found out about her wiles, I wish to convict her before the people and punish her as she deserves. And now I ask for your aid. [Would you] gather together honorable and worthy persons from the people and come with them to my house today and grant me the right to punish the guilty woman according to my own discretion?” The Prince consented to everything [Pachabrozhev asked].

At an assembly of the people, Pachabrozhev first of all summoned the silversmith, set forth the cup, and ordered him, on pain of death, to say whether he made the cup, from what he made it and who gave him the job. The frightened silversmith answered all the questions.

Those present, having been let in on the secret of the bet, which had been afflicting Pachabrozhev, agreed that he had truly won and was freed from his promise. Having released the silversmith, who was innocent because, by virtue of his occupation, he could not turn down highly profitable work offered him, Pachabrozhev led his guests into the storeroom. There the body of [his] wife’s lover and Pachabrozhev’s precious shashka were uncovered. At that time, the latter asked the Prince’s forgiveness for having suspected that the man he killed had been sent by the Prince. When the wife’s perfidy had been exposed in full, all those present unanimously called for her execution. But first the three kinsmen were summoned. “Such worthless, shameful sorts as you can be punished in only the following manner,” said Pachabrozhev, cutting off the ear of one, the tip of the nose of another, and the tip of the third’s tongue, sending them off to home, all bloody. After that, Pachabrozhev’s wife was brought forth. The honorable elders informed her that [her] husband had answered her question fully and correctly, and that her perfidy had been exposed, which was why they had condemned her to death. Two unbroken horses were led forth and, with her legs tied to their tails, they were let loose on the steppe.

Adhering to custom, according to which a prince may compensate a vassal for losses in his service, Prince T., the ruler of the aul, himself undertook to arrange a marriage for Pachabrozhev, having located a bride and paid the bride-price himself.

[1] Translator’s note: The word used here, kochka, can mean a hummock, tussock or small mound.

[2] See footnote 4.

[3] Translator’s note: Pachabrozhev is a bit understated here. Solving a riddle by means of a talking rat isn’t happenstance or accident.


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