Chechen Fairy Tales

Translated from the Russian by Troy Morash

Timour (retelling of a Chechen fable)
Originally published at Fables

Once there was a man that suffered from a sore old back and bad eyesight. It was more than he could bear, so he thought.

Without further delay, he sent his oldest son in search for a cure to his sufferings. Dutifully, the eldest traveled far and wide, for both a long time and a short time, until he came to what seemed to him to be one of the famed ends of the world where the snow was red. 'What a wonder! Such a sight I certainly have not seen before,' he thought.

Excited, he ran back home as quickly as he could with the red snow in his hand, hoping that this would cure the old suffering man.

As soon as he arrived, his father eagerly asked, 'Have you brought me a cure for my sufferings?' He felt like death was all around him.

'Yes father, yes father! I have brought you what eyes have never seen before, red snow.' The old man's son answered.

Needless to say the old man was quite upset with his eldest son. He then sent his second son in search of a cure for his ailments. Well the second son traveled far and wide for both a long time and a short time, traveling past the place where the red snow fell. He traveled quite a ways before he came to what he thought was most certainly one of the ends of the world. It was a wondrous place, where the grass grew white. With the white grass in his hand he ran home as fast as he could, thinking the whole time that this white grass that had never been seen by anyone would most certainly cure his old and ailing father.

As soon as he arrived his father asked him, 'What have you brought me for a cure for my sufferings?'

His son answered that he had brought white grass that had never been seen by anyone ever before. The old man was again upset and there was nothing left to be done but call for his youngest son.

The youngest son prepared himself for three days and three nights. His father made him jump with his horse over a stonewall just to see if he was big enough to set out on his own. He jumped easily over the stonewall three times. Then his father wished him a safe journey but forbade him to stop and pick anything up on the way or he would fall into the hands of misfortune.

The day came and the day went and by night the youngest son came to the place with red snow and then went on. He came to the place where the white grass grew and went on. He was riding along on his white horse when he saw a golden feather. He stopped his horse and picked up the golden feather. The horse said to him, 'you have broken your promise to your father. He distinctly forbade you to pick up anything along the way.'

However the young lad took the golden feather, hid it and rode on farther. 'He couldn't have meant anything as beautiful as this!'

The youth had traveled far and wide for a long time and for a short time when he came upon a golden ball of thread. He stopped the horse and picked up the golden ball of thread. The horse again said to him, 'you have again broken your promise to your father. He said, don't you remember, that you were to pick nothing up along the way. This golden ball of thread is only going to bring you misfortune.'

However the young lad took the ball of thread. 'What? Have you lost your mind? How could something as beautiful as this cause me misfortune?'

By sunset the youngest son had reached a strange and unknown land. Soon enough he saw a shepherd herding his cows. The young man asked, 'Who lives in this strange and unknown land with the reputation of being a virtuous man and kind to guests?'

The shepherd pointed to a very high tower off in the distance. He said that there, there is said to be a prince who lives with respectable people and loves guests. The youngest son went to this prince. After heavy questioning at the gates he was allowed to stay and he with the entire household went off to pray together.

When the youngest son was bending down to do his prostrations, the golden feather fell out of his bosom. The prince picked it up and begged the young man to find the bird to which this feather belonged. If not the prince said he would die. The young man said that he would have to consult with his horse otherwise he would not be able to give an answer. The son went to his horse and told it of the prince's request.

'Well lets go and see what will come of all this,' the horse said. 'Have the king prepare a light and tasty meal for our trip. Lets say a kilo of cornmeal and a pitcher of Karaki.'

The prince had everything prepared and the next day the young son set off in search of the little bird.

He traveled far and wide, for a long time and a short time. Then he came to one of the ends of the world. The horse stopped high up in the mountains and said to the young son, 'If you throw your sight about a bit, you'll see a monster arising in the heavens. You see, doesn't that look like his tall fur cap?'

'Yes, I see.'

'That's the bird of which the prince was talking about. I will try to lead her this way and you better get in the mood to play a little game on her. She will ask you from which village you are from and you must answer that you are from the village where Timor lives. Then she will ask you how Timor is feeling these days. Then you must answer that Timor has hurt his back and his eyesight has gotten really bad. If the bird asks about Timor's horse answer that if her master is infirm, the horse can go to hell and not getting any older is put out to pasture, high and dry. It's better not to ask her anything about that though. The bird will then come down from the high mountain and start to bath in the river, to clean its plumage. That is when you must pour the sticky Karaki into the river and throw the cornmeal all about you.'

The young son did everything he was told. The bird started to bath in the river and then came closer to the youth to get a better look at him. The young son jumped on her and grabbed a hold of her. She wiggled in his hands but he didn't let her go. 'Is that you Timor?' she trembled.

The young son answered, 'I am Timor's third son.'

'Oh, I see. I must do my evening prayers and I must clean my plumage, please let me go,' the bird started to beg.

The young son let her go. The little golden bird bathed herself and then rested herself on the young son's shoulder. So with the bird on his shoulder and the sun sitting, the young man returned to the strange and unknown land where the prince lived.

A small time later when the young son was doing his prayers, the golden ball of thread fell out of his bosom. The prince took hold of the golden ball of thread and said, 'I will die, if the girl who wound up this sweet golden ball of thread is not brought to me.'

The young son consulted with his horse. The horse told him to have the prince prepare a light and tasty meal for the trip.

The next day the young son set off with his horse in search of the girl. He traveled far and wide, for a long time and for a short time. Soon enough he was at another one of the ends of the world. His horse then said to him, 'you see those tall mountains, and do you see the tower among them which has no entrance and no exit? Well at the top of that tower sits the girl who wound up the golden ball of thread. We'll have the ball seemingly unravel all by itself, although you secretly are behind everything. She will ask you how Timor is feeling and you must answer that Timor has hurt his back and that his eyesight has gotten bad. If the girl asks about Timor's horse, answer that if its master is infirm, the horse can go to hell and not getting any older is put out to pasture, high and dry. For her though, it will be a great joy. The girl will say that she is scared to come out of the tower because of Timor and that is why she is staying there and getting old. She will also say that she plays on the harmonica and will do so on the lower balcony if you are a good rider and will circle around the tower a few times on your horse. You must answer that you are in a hurry but in order to calm her heart you will ride around. We will ride around three times and on the forth I will jump up and get my hooves onto the balcony and if I don't gallop then you can tear off my front legs! Then you grab her.

Timor's son rode to the girl. She asked him, 'Where are you from?'

He answered, 'I am from the same village as Timor.' He was though admittedly a little nervous to be talking to such a pretty girl. The girl asked about Timor and the young man said, 'Timor is having a hard time these days. He has hurt his back and his eyesight is failing him. He fears that the legions of death are all around him.'

'What about his horse?' the girl asked.

'When its master is infirm, the horse can go to hell and not getting any older is put out to pasture, high and dry.' The girl was glad to hear this.

The girl went down to the lowest balcony and started to play her harmonica. She asked him to circle around the tower with his horse a couple of times. The young man and his horse rode around the tower three times and on the fourth round the horse galloped up and jumped landing his front hooves on the balcony. The youngest son grabbed the girl. She started to beat him with her hands but the young man held onto her with a tight grip even though his nose stung and his eyes curled.

'Are you Timor?' the girl asked.

'I am not Timor. I am his third son,' the young man answered.

'I gave an oath that I would marry the one who took me away from that balcony,' the girl said.

The youth held onto the girl and rode back to the prince. The prince went up to the girl and she said coolly to him, 'Unless you cleanse yourself with the milk of a sea mare, then you have no right to touch me.' She was firm on this point and everyone at court knew it not least of all, the prince.

The prince ordered everyone under his power to go out and find this special milk. His people however couldn't find this milk and said to the prince that the one who brought the golden bird and the girl may be able to find and bring this milk from a sea mare. The prince pleaded with the youngest son of Timor to help him find this milk. The youth said that he would have to consult with his horse first.

'Well, this was what I was afraid of all along,' the horse sighed. 'Have the prince kill three of his horses. From their hides make pieces of bright clothing and also have him give us some glue.'

They traveled far and wide, for a long time and for a short time before coming to the coast of the sea. The horse told the youth to dig two holes big enough for them to hide in. The youngest son put glue on the bright clothing and wrapped them around the horse. After this was done the horse kicked his hooves in the water, neighed and hid in one of the holes.

Not soon afterwards, a sea stallion jumped out of the sea, neighed and rushed about the coast and then again back he went into the sea. 'Bloody fools, I thought they were all dead,' was all that could be heard of him.

The horse asked the youth, 'What was the stallion like when he jumped out of the sea and what was he like when he went back in again?'

'When he jumped out of the sea, there was a lasso with three knots around his neck. When he went back into the sea one of the knots had come undone.'

Again the horse went to the water and kicked his hooves in the sea, neighed and jumped back into the hole to hide. As before, the stallion jumped out of the sea, rushed about the coast and not finding anything, went back into the sea again. 'Bloody fools, I thought that they were all dead.'

The horse asked the youth, 'What was the stallion like when he came out of the water and what was he like when he went back into the sea again?'

The youth answered, 'When he jumped out of the water, two of the knots had come undone and when he went back into the sea only one knot was left.'

The horse went into the sea for a third time and kicked up the water with his hooves and then quickly jumped back into the hole to hide. The stallion again jumped out of the sea, rushed about the coast without any knots in the lasso around his neck and then sank back into the sea.

The next time the horse splashed in the sea with his hooves and stood his ground in the water. The stallion again jumped out of the water and started to fight with the youth's horse. The stallion ripped apart the horse's bright clothes. The horse however ripped apart the stallion at his turn and in this way the horse defeated the stallion.

'I have the power of this big earth and of this sea so please let me do all that you order,' the stallion begged.

'Drive out all the sea mares and the sea stallions otherwise I will pour all the water out of this sea.'

The stallion drove all the sea mares and all the sea stallions from the sea; the youth straddled his horse and arrived back at the prince with all the sea mares.

They boiled a large pot of the sea mares' milk. The prince suggested that the youth should cleanse himself first and then the prince would. The youth said that he would have to consult with his horse first. The horse said, 'Say to the prince that if your horse is close to the pot, then you will cleanse yourself.'

The youth said all this to the prince. The prince ordered that the horse be brought in and placed next to the boiling pot of milk. The youth started to get into the pot and with one breathe the horse cooled the milk in the pot. The prince saw all this and ordered that the youth's horse be placed next to the pot while he cleansed himself too. As he was getting into the pot the horse in one breath of hot air killed the prince.

Well with nothing more to talk about, the youngest son of Timor prepared to go home. He took with him the girl, the golden bird sat on his shoulder and the stallion herded all the sea mares. On the way though the son had lost a lot of weight. The girl asked, 'You have a golden bird, which no one had ever seen before, An entire herd of sea mares and me to boot, so why have you lost weight? There is nothing to worry about.'

'I was sent away from home to look for a cure to my father's ailments. I didn't find not one single cure and so now I am losing weight as a result.'

The golden bird, which sat on his shoulder said, 'If you take one of my little golden feathers from my wing and run it lightly over your father then he will become younger than you.'

With nothing more to talk about, they arrived home. They arrived just in time as the old man was fighting death off with his bare hands. The youngest son took a feather from the right wing of the little golden bird and ran it softly over his father's eyes and back. The father quickly became younger than his youngest son. He turned over and saw the bird which he couldn't understand, a girl which he could never have had before and a herd of sea mares that he could only dream about. He said to his youngest son, 'You have far surpassed me in everything that I have done. You have done more than I and without any energy being spent it seems.'

The son smiled and thought nothing of it. The youth gave the girl to his father.

Seven days and seven nights they celebrated the wedding. They had prepared such tasty food that it is a shame that my teeth couldn't taste it. They had prepared such wine that my lips never got wet.

I was there and gave them each a whack and returned home. If you don't believe me, then go away.

© 2002


The Deeds of Wives

A poor man was riding on his mare with her foal following behind. After some time the foal started to trudge behind a horseman who was on his gelding.*

'That foal is mine, my gelding gave birth to it,' said the horseman.

'In order to decide this problem we must go to the prince,' said the poor man.

Once they had arrived at the prince's palace they asked his wife, 'Is the prince at home?'

'No, he's not in. But on what business have you come?'

'We've come to settle a disagreement: Who owns the foal? The poor man on the mare or the horseman on the gelding?'

'Well, my master is not at home. He rode off to put out a fire at Kazbek's Tower,' answered the prince's wife.

'How amazing! How can it be that Kazbek's Tower has burst into flames?' said the horseman with surprise.

'There's nothing amazing or strange about Kazbek's Tower bursting into flames at all. What's amazing is that your gelding has given birth,' answered the prince's wife.

After some time the prince returned and asked his wife if anyone had come to see him while he was away. His wife said that two men with a disagreement had been to see him and she told her husband all about it.

'How many times have I told you not to mess about in affairs that have nothing to do with you!' shouted the prince. 'Take whatever you want and get out of my house. Though before you go give me a drink and put me to sleep.'

The prince's wife poured her husband a drink and as soon as her husband had fallen asleep she put him into her trunk and set off with him to her parents' home.

After some time the prince woke up and asked his wife what was the meaning of all this.

'Didn't you say I could take whatever I wanted from your house. I took what was most valuable to me.'

'I can't argue with you,' said the prince with a sigh. 'It's better to go home.'

And so they returned home together.

*A gelding is a male castrated horse for those who don't know.


The Cuckoo

A long time ago there once lived a cuckoo with three small chicks. One day the Mother Cuckoo fell ill.

It's been said, that during her illness no one prepared any food for her, or brought her water. The cuckoo's children in fact did not look after their mother.

One time Mother Cuckoo said to her eldest child, 'Go and fetch me some water, I'm very thirsty.'

'But it's very cold outside and it's difficult for me to carry the water,' the eldest said refusing to do as her mother had asked.

And the other two didn't bring their mother a drop of water either.

So with all her remaining strength Mother Cuckoo flew away from the nest.

The children were alarmed. 'Come back! We will bring you water, feed you till you're full, we will help you with everything,' they cried.

However since then cuckoos don't know their parents and parents don't know their children. Cuckoos even lay their eggs in strangers' nests.


About the Hunter and the Nart*

A long time ago, there once lived a husband with his wife. Every morning the husband put his wife up against the door, put an egg on her head and shot it with his rifle. The man's wife to be sure was scared lest a bullet should hit her but she did not confess this to her husband. Seeing the difficult position she was in, she somehow managed to get the attention of an old wise woman and told the old hag everything.

The old wise woman asked, 'What does he say to you after he shoots?'

'He says, "What a man I am, what a hunter I am!"'

'When your husband says those words to you tomorrow say this, "There are better men and better hunters than you, who go everywhere and just don't sit at home all the time." Thus advised the old wise woman to the troubled wife.

The next day after the husband had shot at his wife she said to him, 'You can find and gaze upon better men and better hunters than yourself if you only set off and wandered about for some time.'

'Ha, I'll see if there are better men or better hunters than me or not,' said the hunter and off he set straight away. On the way he came to a tower. In the tower lived seven Narts and their mother.

'You welcome guests?' shouted the hunter as he approached the tower.

The mother was baking flat bread made from corn flour and her sons weren't home. She answered, 'Of course we welcome guests, how could one not? But if my sons find out about your coming they will kill you. Quickly hide in the hem of my dress.'

So she hid her guest in the hem of her dress.

Soon her seven children returned home.

'Nana, who has come to see you?' they asked.

'If you give your word not to kill them than I will tell you.'

After hearing their promise their mother brought the hunter out from underneath her dress.

'This is our guest Nana?' laughed the seven Narts who without delay began pushing the visiting hunter about from one to another.

They amused themselves with their 'toy' but because of their promise to their mother, they did not kill the hunter in their home, but instead decided to kill him on the road once he had finally left their home.

They left their house early and sat in a place where the visiting hunter was sure to pass by. Their mother fed the hunter and pointed out to him the way to take, advising him to leave before her sons returned. The hunter quickly saddled up on his horse and was on his way. Once the Narts had spotted him they started shooting at him.

The hunter took to his heels and on the way he came across Nart Gonchu who was ploughing the earth with eight wild boars.

'There are seven Narts chasing after me who want to kill me! Save me!' the hunter pleaded with Nart Gonchu.

'Get out of here and don't scare my wild boars. You are ruining my strip of field!' cried Gonchu.

'Can it be that your ploughing is more precious to you than my life? Save me!' the hunter begged once more.
So then Gonchu put the hunter and his horse into his mouth, into a huge cavity in his mouth where a tooth once stood.

The Narts rode up and said, 'Give us our guest!'

'The guest who asked for my help, I will not surrender. Be on your way and don't walk all over my field.'

'If you don't give us our guest then we aren't leaving!' said the seven Narts and went to stop the ploughing.

Gonchu yelled at his wild boars and they attacked the Narts who suddenly became afraid for their lives and ran away. Meanwhile the hunter was whiling his time away in Gonchu's cavity and thought, 'I must ask him how he lost such a large tooth.'

As soon as the seven Narts had run away, Gonchu took the hunter and his horse out of his mouth.

The hunter asked, 'Tell me please, how did you lose your tooth?'

'I'm too busy ploughing and can't stop now to tell you about it.'

'I can wait till evening if you will tell me,' said the hunter.

'Very well, in the evening I will tell you about it, until then go to the hut and wait for me,' said Gonchu.

Gonchu ploughed till evening and then had this to tell, 'In my family there were seven brothers and I was the most feeble of us all. We had only one sister. She was stolen by a one-eyed Nart by the name of Sargan. My seven brothers and I set out to recapture her. We climbed over seven mountains which then brought us to Sargan's dwelling. Sargan welcomed us well enough, questioned us and started a fire in the hearth. After that he stuck a dirty old metal rod in the corner. He put it there to warm in up red hot like, and then grabbed each of us and impaled us one by one onto the hot metal rod, then he put the rod back in the corner of the hearth and went to lie down and relax.

I was the last to be impaled, at the edge of the metal rod and it's sharp edge did not pierce my heart. When Sargan had fallen asleep, I jumped free from the metal rod and then removed my brothers from it and then again heated the metal rod up and stuck it into the only eye Sargan had left and started to run.

Waking from the pain, Sargan filled the air with a horrible scream. He grabbed a rock and threw it after me. The rock fell not very far from me but hit another rock. A few pieces from it hit me and knocked out my tooth. I buried my brothers in one tomb and not finding any trace of my sister, left the wailing Sargan, and went home.

'But you live in the mountains and not in the plains,' said Gonchu at the end of his story, 'return home and live with your labor.'

*Well I have learned about the Narts. You can go to this web page at for more detailed information. Narts were hardworking virtuous giants who helped people and they appear in many Chechen legends, myths and fairy tales. The Nart epics date back to the second century BC and belong to the folklore of many northern Caucasian nations. But the Chechen and Ingush myths focus on the standoff between the Narts and the bravest of men. Their heroes protect the weak, they act in the interests of society.


Chinkho and the Devil

Once it happened that Chinkho was somehow supposed to mow hay when he saw off in the distance the devil approaching.

He thought he would trick the devil. He laid down on the ground and put a sedge plant between his leg and hand.

Soon enough the devil came along and saw someone laying near a scythe, at his side there was some bread and between his hand and leg a sedge plant.

'Were it not for a scythe lying nearby, some would say: the man had been murdered; were it not for the bread laying nearby some would say: he had died from hunger; and were it not for the fresh sedge laying between his hand and leg then some would say: he had simply died. If he wasn't murdered and didn't die of hunger and didn't just die just like that, then that means he lives. So I had better get the hell out of here,' said the devil and off he ran.

Translated from the Russian by Troy Morash 2003.

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