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Vorokov Vladimir
Let The Merciful Forgive

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  • Аннотация:
    Перевод исторического романа Владимира Ворокова "Прощающие да простят" о кавказской войне 18-19 веков. Основная мысль романа - в войне нет победителей.


   To my father
   Khalid VOROKOV
   I dedicate this book
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
   Vladimir Vorokov
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
   LET THE MERCIFUL FORGIVE
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
   Nalchik. "EL -FA" Publishing House. 2004
  
  
  
  
  
   VOROKOV Vladimir Khalidovich - film director and producer of more than one hundred
   and twenty TV -films, journalist, writer, author of seven books("Antennae of Memory",
   "The Color Dreams", "Melody of the Old Violin"), member of the Russian Union
   of Cinematography, awarded an honorable Merited status in Russian federation, splendid
   essayist - has published his first novel, depicting the events of the Russian -Caucasian war
   of 19th century - "Let the Merciful Forgive".
  
  
  
  
   Lord our God!
   You envelope everything that's existing by Your mercy and knowledge.
   Have mercy on those who repented and are on Your way.
   Glorious Koran (The Merciful, ayat 7).
  
  
   There is something inconceivable in the dusk tiredness of the Terek Cossack village. The day and the evening can not settle their precedence: the vast globe of the sun hid in the steppe just recently. It did, though there is no place for it to hide! And the sunset inflames the skies, illuminating with the sad light the distant forest and the steppe, and the road, leading to the village.
   The buffaloes and the cows hurry home past the reed -covered huts, past the wooden porches and the wattle - to home porch, to home wattle. Soon the air in the village will become pregnant with the smells of the warm fresh milk, brought from the honey fields. Soon. But before that the Cossack women hurry to leave the fruit gardens, the vineyards and the melon fields in the vicinity of the village, where they toiled all day long. Why they hurry today, oh, why?
   Here they come, talking gay and flippant. As if there was not a long day of hard labor behind. With their wide shirts tucked comfortably around their waists, showing slender legs, they cry with laughter. But in the far orchard, shrouded with silence, the danger hides. Evil has fast wings. The koop* of Arykshoo's horsemen fell on them like hawks on the foxes. Throwing their live trophy across the saddles, the highlanders race away. Shrill yells, moans and cries... Arykshoo managed to grab the most graceful of the girls, bound her with his lariat and now rode in the head of his band. His heart was burning and beating fit to jump out of his breast. It was booming like a drum and singing a wordless song.
   The raid was a dare. The villagers weren't swift to understand what happened. Till they raised alarm on the Cossack cordon and set the pursuit on the road, the Arykshoo's band forded the Terek River. Only on the other bank he permitted his men and horses to get a respite. Here he looked closely on his trophy. The girl was in the Circassian closes, as all Cossack women wear: wide shirt of blue linen,
   *koop - a group of Circassian (Adyghe, Kabardin) men, a band
  
   without the habitual beshmet* and green soft leather shoes. The white head kerchief bound around the face in the Russian way, showing only blue eyes.
   - Beautiful - said Arykshoo to the girl, dismounting her in the shadow of a tree, but the girl turned away.
   The prince has issued commands, checked the armament, and corrected the red rounded stirrups on his saddled thoroughbred. When he was brought a small cake of roasted millet and a piece of a smoked cheese, he untied the captive girl and proposed the food to her, but again she turned away.
   - Your choice, beauty, - said abrek** and started to eat. He was hungry, but ate slowly, with habitual dignity. This man was accustomed to endure the hunger and thirst. Like the god of war he mastered his armament and horsemanship and he fought his enemies with the bravery of a snow leopard. He had no other virtues and did not want any.
   The sunset was dying over the distant mountains, when the rear guard sentry caught with them.
   - We are being chased!
   The band stiffened, tight as the shikapshina*** strings.
   - How far away they are? - asked the prince.
   - They will be here before the dusk settles, - was the answer.
   Everyone was looking on the prince, waiting for his orders.
   - Let us abandon our trophy. We will not escape with the load, said Arykshoo. Nobody wanted to part with the loot, but no one wanted to die of the Cossack sabers, either.
   - What shall we do with the captives? - asked Gorgonyzh, the oldest man in the party, the one who always led the koop if the prince was not there.
   - Slaughter them - proposed Ahuazh, who concealed cowardice with malice.
   _________________________
   * beshmet - a soft felt hood with long scarves, covering the shoulders
   ** abreck - the Caucasian warrior, literally a robber, but during Russian -Caucasian war a fighter for freedom.
   ***shikapshina - the Circassian violin with the horse tail hairs for strings
   The prince angrily waved at him with his whip. It had galoon bound grip and silver caps at the top and bottom:
   - I'll cut your tongue out.
   And went to his captive girl to announce to her: "You are free, my beauty!"
   But some evil force led him. His hand tore the kerchief from the Cossack girl's head. A real beauty stood before him. Like a flash of damask steel, her beauty in the last rays of the sun stroke the prince's stare. The best he had seen among the flat bosomed, chastity corset-wearing Kabardin girls faded before her stately majesty, derived from the women of the North. He pulled the linen shirt so that it tore. The Cossack girl recoiled, abutting herself against a tree, and shook her head:
   - Keep away!
   But the reason and sense have left Arykshoo. He was a knot of wild passion. Passion is like a torrent, strong enough to turn the mill's wheel. If the torrent is too strong, it will break the wheel.
   - Keep away!
   The heavy coils of golden straw hair fell on the girl's shoulders, enveloped the chest, covering the captive. Arykshoo drew the dagger and before the girl could utter a sound, he cut her shirt with the swift motion from bosom to the lap, leaving not a smallest scratch on her body.
   No! There was no more, couldn't possibly be any other such a bosom, such a waist, such legs in the whole world. Trembling scarlet lips. Blue eyes, frozen in astonishment and horror.
   - Holy Mother of God, have mercy on me, defend and save me!
   But Holy Mary did not hear the plea of the Cossack girl. And when the abrek pounced upon the virgin body, that did not know the stranger's stare, least of all the man's hands, the girl did not struggle as the trout, thrown on the shore, but lay still, moaning of pain and woe, biting her lips till the blood came. Was this the award for being virtuous all her life?
   When the storm of passion and grief abated and they raised from the ground, the prince, who conquered the body but was himself conquered by his captive, said:
   - Come with me. If we manage to break through, you'll become my wife.
   Saying this, he did not even perceive how this would be possible between the prince and the Cossack girl.
   The girl, not hiding her nakedness, approached and spat the abrek in the face.
   - Beast! - shouted she in Circassian. Those days the Cossacks knew the language of the highlanders. Their girls liked to chat in Circassian. - Beast!
   Blood rushed into the face of Arykshoo. The world turned in his agitated mind. The nearby mountains crushed into the stone avalanches. In fury, he drew his dagger and sank it in the trunk of the tree behind the Cossack girl. The koop already mounted the horses.
   - Leave the girl, hurry! Or we will perish!
   He jumped on his horse, and the stallion played, astir. But his master, usually so kind with his four - legged friend, bridled him angrily, unbuttoned his beshmet, took a heavy golden chain with the cross, decorated with gems, from his neck and laid it at the legs of the captive girl.
   Oh, poor prince, that is not the cross you laid - that is peace of your mind and your dear young life! Every time you close your eyes the captive girl will come to your dreams, not heeding her nakedness, and will kiss you with her scarlet lips. And when you'll open your eyes, she will spit you in the face. In that face, which only the wind could touch before.
   The cross, which Arykshoo laid to the legs of the young girl, was a marvel, created by the great masters. Made of gold and adorned with diamonds, a great saphire and a great flat diamond, probably one of the biggest in the world, it inspired not only astonishment and delight, but awe. Surrounded by the medium -size diamonds, in the center nestled that great diamond, and under its transparent beauty was the tourmaline crucifix. The cross was sidelong. Where the hands ended, right in between, the majestic saphire lay in the halo of diamonds, shining with deep clear blue. How this miracle got into the mountain village hidden high in the Central Caucasus? How it got into the possession of Arykshoo?
  
   That day the shepherds brought the flocks of sheep home to the aul.* The sheep bleated alarmed, and the shepherds shouted, bent under a heavy mysterious load. There was something devilish in the moaning of animals and in the human cries. The sun, which usually hid at this hour behind the Red Rock, clang to its peak and wouldn't get down. Huge, scarlet, frighteningly beautiful, it made the hearts tremble and troubled the souls.
   - Why did you bring the sheep to the village? -Amysh, the father of Pago and Arykshoo was strict. - Their place is in the pasture!
   But the shepherds, all the six of them, fall on their knees before the prince, and couldn't utter a single word. Their hoorjins,** in which they carried choorecks*** and cheese - their simple daily food - resembled now the sheep going to bear lambs and were ready to burst under the weight inside. The owners of the carpetbags were looking on the hoorjins with horror.
   - What is inside? - asked Amysh.
   The aul dwellers opened the bags: massive golden bracelets, diamond rings, embellishments of chrysolite, numerous golden buckles in the form of lambs, lions,
   fallow deer, heavy golden and platinum chains, earrings and rings with precious stones, great rose tourmaline in gold and enamel, a silver diadem adorned with diamonds...
   The people froze in astonishment. "Where from?"
   It so happened, that one of the shepherds saw a narrow passage in the gorge. He squeezed into it and came to the oak door. The door gave easily and let him in. Here the shepherd saw in the lights of the candles an old man and a girl of marvelous beauty, sitting at the table with multitude of books lying before them. The icons were standing at the corners of the cave, and icon lamps were burning. A great golden basin, full to the brim with gems was on the table with the books.
   The shepherd got scared and wanted to leave, but the maiden stopped him:
   ____________________________________
   *aul - a mountain village in the Caucasus
   **hoorjin - a saddle bag
   ** *choorek - baked bread, made of corn flour
  
  -- Do not be afraid! Here, take this! - she said, and pulling a ring from her
   finger, offered it to the shepherd.
   Nobody in the aul has seen such a beautiful ring before. The diamond for which a jeweler has knitted the precious mount, resembled a dove's egg in the shape and size.
  -- Take it, - said the maiden.
   The shepherd extended his hand to receive the gift, and the heaviness of it burned his palm. The old man also endowed the shepherd with a gift. He took from the basin the diamond -covered cross on the heavy chain and put it on the shepherd's neck.
   - Go with God! - said the white -haired oldster. - And let the secret of our meeting die in this cave.
   But the shepherd, returning to his fellow shepherds has told them everything. They would not believe, but the ring and the cross were more real, than any truth. Soon the six shepherds were in the cave and took hold of most of the riches, which were there. The old man and the maiden did not utter a word, when the interlopers threw choorecks and cheese from their hoorjins and filled them with gold and gems. When they were leaving, the girl said:
   - Poor, oh, poor you! Poor are your wives, and children, and aul you were born in! This is the death you carry with you!
   The old prince listened to the narration of the shepherds. He was silent. Then said:
   - The gold has the shine and the force. That is why so many think, that it rules the world. The shining of the gems people compare with the sun. But can they warm our mountains, and our aul, and our bodies? Will their shine bring the morning around? It only seems to us, that the gold and the gem will overpower everything. But they cannot make the warrior brave, the teacher wise, the singer talented.
   Remember, that only human honor has a real value. It is dearer then life. Return all this back where you took it.
   But when the shepherds returned to the gorge and, passing the oak door entered the sacred cave, they found neither maiden, nor the old man. The candles were burning out on the table, and the icon lamps were still alive. The golden pieces, which did not go into their hoorjins were still in the golden basin, like orphans in the orphanage, as if offended by the shepherd's negligence lately.
   The aul dwellers threw their hoorjins with the loot, which burned their fingers, and were ready to retire, when the voice penetrated the stone walls:
   - Bring the cross and the ring to the prince. Tell him, that he saved his aul from ruin. But nothing can save you.
   Three nights passed. The fear was slowly dissolving in the shepherd's chests, as the spring snow melts on the southern slopes of the mountains. But all of them were dead on the fourth night. Them. Their wives. Even their cattle and dogs died in their yards. The cross and the ring remained in the prince's family, becoming the symbols of honor and truth.
  
   Arykshoo escaped from the pursuit.
   Gorgonyzh said: - Let us divide the koop into two groups. The main will go by the ravine, and will not be noticed. The rest of us will attract the Cossacks, leading them away.
   The feeling of camaraderie and the approaching danger brought Arykshoo from the stupor.
   - You take the party away, -said he to Gorgonyzh. At the head of the smaller group of five horsemen he turned back to meet the pursuit.
   When they rode out of the forest on the steep bank of Terek, the Cossacks were near. Arykshoo with his comrades were on the river brink, stirring their horses, but not moving.
   - They ride beautifully - the prince was enjoying the horsemanship of pursuers.
   The Cossacks had much in common with the highlanders: same dress, same posture in the saddle. They were loaded with weapons just like Circassians, and they rode the Kabardin horses.
   As if hearing him, the pursuers gave a rifle salvo. But they were out of reach. The highlanders shouted in response, waving their high fur hats.
   The steppe villagers were approaching like a storm. Snatching the charges from the hazirs* on their Circassian frocks they loaded their rifles and without a moment's stop continued their ride, shooting in the direction of the abreks. Their horses breathed hoarsely, straining in the effort, as if united with their masters in the desire to catch and punish the offenders. But their pursuit was a hopeless affair, because every abrek held a spare horse on a bridle. And however fast the Cossack horses were, they can never in their life overrun twined Kabardin horses.
  
   In the aul all the koop bowed in worship to Aus Gerg** and proceeded to feast in honor of their deliverance, without any regret of the lost loot. Only the prince did not drink the honey marmazhey.*** Makhsyma**** booze was not on his mind. The Cossack girl charmed him, probably. Arykshoo was seeking relief from those charms in the hands of aul beauties. Ah, those Kabardin girls! Thin in the waist and flexible as the willow at the creek, with magnificent eyes, with raven plaits, black as the southern night. He sought the defense from his love, but couldn't find.
   His anguish bore dark closes. Even his loyal horse turned away, discontentedly. His master was reclining on his boorka***** in the alpine meadow listening to the silence. And that silence forced his head to the ground, where he felt the Cossack girl's body shiver from fright.
   He came to the Aus Gerg temple. The old shogen* was surprised with his visit, but kept silent. He was standing and looking at the prince. Then Arykshoo touched the bloody stigmata on the Crucifix.
   ____________
   * hazir - a spare rifle charge carried in a special pocket on a Circassian frock
   ** Aus Gerg - Saint George
   *** marmazhey - a sweet alcoholic drink, made of honey, corn **** Makhsyma, booza - alcoholic drinks
   *****boorka - a thick rough felt coat of tetragonal design, Circassian main cover in rain or cold.
  
   - What is it for?
   The shogen shrugged his shoulders.
   - For suffering, - was the response.
   The time passed. Arykshoo led his parties into the daredevil raids. Together with the Georgian warriors they swept through Turkey and Persia. The rulers promised high price for his head. Arykshoo came to one of them.
   - Here is my head!
   And the Shah, astonished by such courage, ordered to give Kabardin a hat full of silver reals . Arykshoo declined: - Give the money to the beggars. But present me with a horse.
   - Which one? - asked the Shah.
   - The one which will be equal to his rider, - said Arykshoo, lowering his gaze.
   - I have no such one in my stables, but I will choose one fit for the best of my warriors.
   The daughter of the Nogay murza** begged him to stay and share her love. The prince flew away.
  
   On the southeast of the starry sky the constellation of Andromeda appeared. Usually on the other morning all aul went to the meadows to mown. But now nobody stirred. Everybody was out to greet the outlandish guests. On the eve a messenger arrived from the plains.
   - In the morning a caravan will pass your aul.
   - Why pass? - Pago was surprised. - Had we or our ancestors ever offend the merchants?
   The Great Silk Way between the East and the West, which was busy for fifteen hundred years, already disappeared. Now the merchants led their caravans by the trails, which were hard to recognize. Some time this way united countries and ____________
   * shogen - a Christian priest
   ** murza - a ruler of Nogays
   nations. But prospering and lively cities situated on this way perished, perished the nations, and the weeds were growing on the ruins. Now the merchants were finding their way in the dark of the ages. Sometimes they found it, sometimes they paved their own way. Caravan approached the aul. The pack animals were heavy with the load. Camel after camel, mule after mule carried the precious luggage, swaying in the dust. The strangers were not permitted inside the village, but were camping on the outskirts. Till Mongols and Uigurs, which led the caravan, were erecting the tents, the musicians stroke the strange instruments, emitting the sounds, so different from those of local shikapshina, pkhatsich* or the doulva.** The criers were shouting unintelligible words, trying to imitate the language of Adyghes. The camels were roaring, the mules braying, and horses were thrashing about their hitching posts. The aul dwellers were all here, astonished and startled. The indefatigable children were the first to come. Then hurried the maidens and matrons, followed by the old women. The men, wishing to keep their dignity and honor, tried not to fasten their step. But in vain. Their step quickened, their pace was longer than they were anxious to demonstrate. Uzdens*** close to old Amysh by their position, stopped at the distance of one shot from the camp, pretending that they are not interested in all this turmoil. The old prince and Pago stayed at home, ordering to tell the merchant that he is invited to be their guest. Only Arykshoo with the group of his close mates approached casually to one of the nephs of the caravansary, which appeared on the outskirts of the aul as by a magic. This was the master's quarters.
   - Merchant, how did you find our aul in the vast world? - asked Arykshoo
   The translator bent to his master to translate, but the merchant stopped him. Stepping one step to the young prince, he spoke in a good Adyghe language with
   slight Shapsugh accent.
   ____________________
   * pkhatsich - a wooden rattle, to provide rhythm in dancing
   ** doulva -national musical instrument
   *** uzdens - gentry, close to the prince, usually the backbone of his army, but inferior to workhs (nobles).
  
   - Your village is on the ancient caravan way. The God has shown me the way.
   The bazaar was exulted. Pack after pack was opened. The silk pieces were torn with gusto, followed by linen, brocade, muslin. Pepper, opium, nutmeg and other spices impregnated the mountain air with their intoxicating aromas. Salt and ivory, rouge and fragrance were in great demand. The aul dwellers paid for the caravan goods with wax and foal hides, ermine furs, leather, homemade felt, and barrels of honey. Later the merchant met with Amysh and Pago.
   - My name is Lu Tin. I have come here from the upper bifurcation of Huanghe. And I am on my way to the Northern Alps.
   - Let the great Tkha* help you, said the old prince. - How long is your way?
   - Two years each end.
   - This is time enough for a young apple or peach tree or a dogwood bush to bring first fruit. Your way is rather dangerous, I suppose?
   - Even the lion is afraid of the humane perfidy.
   - Forget about these dangers for the time you are here. The laws of mountains and my word will defend you and your people. I have ordered to slaughter as many bulls and sheep as would suffice for all.
   The merchant nodded silently. Then he gave a sign, and his Hindu slaves brought in and laid out the silk fabrics, horsecloth, wool garments with woven fringes, bronze mirrors and beautiful glass articles.
   The prince glanced on the gifts. - Let your goods be multiplied!
   The unauts** have brought into the chamber the three -legged tables with the food. The guests were treated to the mountain venison brains, honeycomb, nuts, wheat and corn cakes. After the guest and the hosts washed their hands with water
   poured by unauts from copper pitchers over the copper basin, Amysh invited the merchant:
  -- Honor me, taste some of our food.
   ____________________________
   * Tkha - the supreme God in the Adyghe tradition
   ** unaut - the house servant
   The dishes followed one another: patties fried in oil, cheese boiled in sour cream, buffalo cream boiled, sheep cheese. Both the guest and the host were eating little, and it did not interfere with their conversation. It was winding, like a gorge stream, when it reaches the plains, purling and becalming.
   - In your mountains the air is so clean, that I feel fit to fly, - confessed the guest.
   - Take care not to scorch your wings when you fly, - smiled the prince quietly.
   - Oh, I cannot rise so high.
   At that moment they were served boiled goat lamb with the golden millet mash.
   - Do not extinguish the hope, merchant. What a torch will light the land without hope? - murmured Amysh softly. At his sign the servants brought in the presents for the guest: black sables, golden -red foxes, silver ermines, brown martens.
   - Have a rest now, merchant. The road tired you. Tomorrow my younger son Arykshoo will devote his day to you. But before you lead your caravan away, let me have the happiness to see you again.
  
   The dawn only slightly moved the curtain of the morning and extinguished the light of the last star. The first rays of the sun put their still weak hands on the summits, touched the fresh snow on the mountain, and turned shivering to the neighboring forest, waterfall, and the river. It seemed, that the dawn was afraid of something. Wrong! High in the mountains, close to the sky, the life was already beginning. At that moment, the messenger from Arykshoo appeared at the Lu Tin's tent.
   - Merchant! My master wishes you a very good morning!
   The guest expected the messenger. Appearing from the tent in the attire of a Mandarin he answered in the best traditions of Adyghe etiquette: - Let the Gods send your Master many happy days.
   The messenger dismounted to help the guest to mount his horse, supporting his left stirrup. The he jumped into his saddle. They moved. Hindu slave on a white mule was leading a loaded mule, brown as a Caucasian bear, by a bridle. This strange equestrian group circumvented aul by the side and entered the gorge, where Arykshoo was waiting.
   The prince greeted his guest: - Good morning to you!
   - Many good dawns to you, young master.
   The prince took Lu Ting along a narrow, sometimes disappearing path, which led them to a marvelous plateau. On one side was the Elbrus in full splendor. You seemed to be able to touch its snowy slopes. Something inconceivably great and mysterious was here. The transparent silence, which was reigning around was disturbed only by space music. No, it was not heard. But it was felt and entered the souls.
   Arykshoo has brought his guest into the Castles Valley, where the rock pyramids, formed by the wind erosion of the moraine sediments, piled whimsically. The picture so astonished Lu Tin, that he fell on his knees, whispering a prayer, either delighted or afraid of the grandiose landscape. Around him the alpine meadow, the herds, the flocks were jubilant in the morning sun. At the sheepfolds the shepherds treated them to fragrant yogurt, milk and tea, flavored with the wild herbs, goat cheese, boiled buffalo cream and millet buns. And then they took another paths and trails.
   - Do the long road tire you? - asked Arykshoo.
   - If it goes along the way of joy, the tiredness falls off, - answered the merchant.
   The Chinese stood for a long time near the Sultan waterfall, listening to its roaring song, exposing his face and clothes to fine sparkling drops.
   The position of the sun said that it was the time for lunch, when Arykshoo and Lu Tin descended to their horses and mules, left behind. The prince's unaut was sitting on a boorka, thrown on the grass.
   The rifle and a pair of Turkish pistols lay nearby. The Hindu slave was napping, his back against a big boulder. The merchant wanted to wake him up, but the prince put his hand on the guest's shoulder: - Do not wake the slave. He dreams about freedom.
   Looking at the weapons, neatly laid on the boorka (Arykshoo also did not part with his pistols or daggers for a second during their walk), Lu Tin said: -How it is possible to enjoy the marvelous sights of these mountains and to carry long knives, rifles and pistols? Sell them and buy more oxen.
   - But you must be able to defend your oxen, merchant, - answered the prince in the low voice. - Or you may happen to loose the swords, the oxen, and probably the head, too.
   The unaut prepared their lunch, putting on bashlyk boiled veal, salted in the cheese brine, partridge roasted on the campfire coals, corn bread, pot cheese and freshly made butter.
   Arykshoo remembered his Cossack girl. - Merchant, buy my anguish!
   - Your anguish is more upsetting then the cry of lone goose, which lag behind his flock.
   Turning in for the night, Arykshoo put his boorka near the fire, with his saddle serving as a pillow, and ordered to prepare the same bed for his guest, but Lu Tin implored:
   - Allow, prince, my slave to erect a tent for us!
   - Are you afraid that the shining of the stars will interfere with our sleep? Both laughed. At a hot campfire Arykshoo told to his guest a story of Cossack girl, and his love bit his lips, insulted. The merchant listened to the prince's story and understood his feelings.
   - Once in Magrib the wind tore a cover from the Arab girl. I have seen her face and lost my tranquility. But how can you find the only one among the thousands, covered by paranja? So, without tasting the wine of a single date, I am drunk forever.
   The fire warmed the night. Thou so little united the warrior and the merchant, the conversation was flowing, as the fresh honey from the cup, easily and quietly. Everything was disposing to frankness: the flames, the comfort of the warmth, and the constellation of the Great Bear in the sky, and the Moon, round and clear. They were speaking of different matters, and, it came out, about life. When they touched the topic of wealth, Arykshoo asked: - Is your caravan of a great wealth?
   - It depends on the height you are looking from. From that star in the sky - it is not seen at all. From the neighboring mountain it looks large. And if you descend to the ground and stand beside or mix with its camels, mules and packs, it is great.
   - What is poverty? - asked the warrior.
   - When a man does not have something he was dreaming about all his life. It may be bread or a gown, mule or a camel, bed, or a cup of boiled rice, at last. What are you dreaming about?
   - But I have everything, - the prince was surprised. - I have a loyal horse, shashka*, the rifle, pistols, this dagger, made by skilful Osman.** Everything I need!
   -A happy man.
   - Why did you decide so?
   - Happy is the man, who does not need much. I have passed many countries, I have seen enough for a thousand lifetimes. And I came to conclusion that nobody is really feeling sorry for those who beg.
   Arykshoo enlivened the dyeing flames with the long stick.
  -- I do not know what measure you have in mind, when you say "really". I
   agree, that nobody have pity for those begging for bread. But we have no starving people. In our gorge, in our land nobody will swallow a gulp, seeing hungry eyes. Slave's or woman's or elder's. This is the law bequeathed by our ancestors. We will transfer it to our children. And they - to theirs. That is forever. If someone in the gorge will be short of a loaf of bread or of a piece of cheese, he will be provided. That's our way of life. That is our count and measure. Real or not, it's ours.
   - I have never met anything similar on the Earth. - Lu Tin was bewildered.
   Then they talked about the eternal and the routine.
   _______________________________________
   *shashka - slightly bent Circassian sword
   ** Osman - famous Caucasian weaponry smith
  
   - The life is but a moment - said Arykshoo, - it is a flash of a saber, a thunderbolt.
   Eternal are the skies, the mountains, and the sun. Then why cherish that moment ? The hero falls in battle, but minstrel composes a song about him. Otherwise, the man will live his momentary life and be forgotten. The song will survive for centuries, like the sky and the mountains. - And then continued without the trace of boasting, as if speaking of a stranger: - They composed a song about me, too.
   Here is the manuscript, understood the merchant, on which the life did not make a scratch of a correction. It is covered only by hieroglyphs of truth.
   - All is flowing in the life, but nothing goes away - said he.
   - Like our river? - Arykshoo was surprised.
   - Yes, like your river. You have noticed, that the moon may be sharp as the sickle, or round, as the human head. But it is the moon, always. Nobody can make the moon round when it must be like a sickle, and nobody can make it sharp, when the moon resembles a melon.
   - But still, it changes.
   - Variability is essential here. Really the moon is eternal, as you, me, and everything that surrounds us. But everybody in this world has the predestined way. And anything else is impossible to gain.
   - But the stars over my home I call mine, and the stream, running alongside my shack I call mine, and the wind from the mountains is mine. Isn't it true, wise man?
   Lu Tin sighed.
   -Yes, warrior, you may have them. The Creator will not object. We all of us are drinking from the spring of beauty and eternity.
   By this time the scoop handle of the Great Bear constellation turned to the Earth. The sleep has overcome the warrior and the wise man. Only the mules, heeding not the charms of the mountain night, shuddered and stood closer one to the other, and the Hindu slave tucked tight the boorka, offered to him by the unaut.
  
   The morning was being born in torment. The sky diapered the summits into the gray shawl. The pines shivered from cold in the orchards on the slopes, the shepherds shouted in the gorge, and the Great Mountain, piercing the sleepy clouds, rose above the world. The first ray of the sun timidly touched the eternal snow of the Great Mountain, and they colored in gentile rouge. The silence was so deep, that it rang like bells.
   Tweet -tweet! The voice of ular - the mountain turkey - is heard over the ice boulders, brown rocks, trees frozen in the cold night. Tweet -tweet! - ular is trying his voice, laughing at those still asleep.
   Some time will pass until this song will wake up the morning. This song is especially beautiful in the autumn, when the cranes form the wedge - like flights.
   "Where are you hurrying? - sings the ular. - There is no spring water and ripe yellow kingpin and red hawthorn in the sky. Stay, don't fly away yet!"
   And then the heart of the mountain turkey aches, and the melody becomes pitiful and sad: " Over many -many lands crane wings will take you, but I will never leave this gorge. Take me with you to the warm blue sea!"
   But the leader takes his crane flight further and further. He does not hear the ular's cry.
   Now, in the heat of the summer, ular is not so sad. Arykshoo told about it to the merchant.
   - In my land it is considered a great virtue to notice the birds' melodies.
   - It is commendable in our tradition, too.
   They were descending to the aul by the path, winding in the meadow. The grass became gorgeous after the first mowing. The summer splashed under the blue waves of the sky. The clouds were swimming from one rock to another, and were caught by the high peaks. The sun poured the golden rays on the earth, making it glitter with different colors. What may be finer than the alpine varicolored grass carpet! White, scarlet, yellow flowers. The meadow fragrance doped and intoxicated.
   - Our flowers cure people from wounds and illness - said the prince .
   Lu Ting did not tear the mountain flowers. Every time, when that or another flower delighted him especially, he lowered on his knees, and inhaled the intoxicating aroma.
   - We have a tree, called mei. It blossoms, when the snow did not melt yet. The flowers of mei are the symbol of nobility, perseverance, stout spirit. This meadow I can compare with our fair tree.
   - The flowers are showing time - the prince seemed not to hear the merchant - We can say definitely any time of the day by the flower petals.
   In the aul, whereto they descended, the people and animals were still lazy to stir from sleep. But the life did not stop its run.
   Arykshoo has shown to his guest the mill at the outskirts of the village.
   The millstones were turned by the power of water and the great wheel. Prince greeted the miller:
   - Good morning to you!
   - Many bright dawns to you, ziuskhan* - was the answer.
   Lu Ting rubbed the flour between his fingers, sniffed its odor, and nodded, satisfied. But the smithy nearby especially impressed him.
   - The smith will not discover any of his secrets to you, but you will be astonished by what you see here.
   And right he was. Arykshoo seeing the smith swinging the great hammer, put his fist to his temple, and then pressed it to where his heart was beating.
   - Let your deed be good and happy!
   The smith nodded his head in greeting, and wished his guests blessings from Tkha and Tlepsh, ** showing no signs of fidgety or bewilderment at the sight of his lord and his guest. He continued his wizardry with the horn, anvil and hammer.
   ___________________
   * ziuskhan - Your Excellency
   ** Tlepsh - the god of smiths in the Circassian Nart epic
  
  
   - Every master has his own secrets, - consented Lu Tin - And he must not be blamed for it. I bought and sold the blades of the great Japanese smith Mosamuna,
   but never asked of his secrets. And the sabers of Andrea de Ferrara of Genoa have
   brought me considerable income. One of them I presented to your brother Pago.
   - Let the Gods prolong your days - answered Arykshoo.
   He came close to the smith and said something in a low voice. The smith finished what he was doing, went to the adjoining room and returned with a shashka, carefully wrapped in the home -made thin felt. Arykshoo unwrapped the package - and the merchant saw the miracle. The first to catch his eyes in the dimly lit smithy was the cold shine of the slightly straightened Damask saber blade. There was no guarding cross on the hilt. On the rear of the hilt was a flare. The hilt was adorned with silver, mother -of -pearl and ivory.
   - Great knife! Splendid great knife! - Lu Ting exclaimed in delight. I haven't seen anything resembling this plain weaponry in the whole world!
   - You are very wise, merchant, or you wouldn't know that this is our name for this weapon - shashka - "the great knife".
   He touched the flare on the hilt.
   - We shoot from the galloping horse without miss, shoot with one hand, but sometimes the price of one single shot is too high. Then we stick the shashka into the soil, put the rifle on the flare and...
   - And nothing will save the victim - continued the merchant. But why the hilt is not guarding the hand of the warrior? Where is the guarding cross? Or the blade is not finished yet?
   - No, the weapon is complete. But we do not need the guard. In the war we wear steel gloves and combat sleeve covers. Our hands are properly shielded. And the weight of the saber becomes one fifth less. Quite important.
   - Why?
   - The weapon is lighter, and the center of gravity is brought forward.
   Arykshoo took the elegant handle of the weapon as tenderly, as the merchant handled the alpine flowers in the meadow.
   - Let's go outside, merchant.
   The guest followed.
   - Mahmood! - Prince called his unaut - Give me one of my rifles!
   Unaut obeyed.
   - Hold it firmly.
   The strike, which followed, was like a flash of a thunderbolt. The rifle's barrel, cut by the shashka, fell on the ground, as if made not of steel, but of ivy twig.
   - Will you give me your belt kerchief? - said the prince to the Hindu slave.
   The slave dawdled, not understanding the request. Lu Tin translated and ordered to obey. Arykshoo threw the kerchief high and cut silk in two in the air.
   - You will forgive me, merchant, but I cannot present this gourda* to you. More then a year the best smith in our lands toils on it. He first filed the metal into fine dust, this dust he gave to the geese, then made steel, then added wild lead from the upper reaches of Baxan river, then he tempered the steel cooling the blade in the quagmire. And now this shashka will hack the steel, cut the silk in the air, and will bite the flesh on slightest touch. Even mail shirt will not defend.
   - I will bring you great riches for such blades - said the merchant.
   But the warrior declined with a smile.
   - We never trade our gourdas and shagdis,** we even never give them as gifts. Everything, but a pet horse and a true shashka.
   On the bank of the river which was flowing in the middle of the aul, the local women were making bright woolen felt rug - kiyiz.*** The shepherds, like argosy sailors, are toiling in the mountains for centuries, collecting the golden fleece - lamb wool. And in the same mountains highlanders find wonderful dyes, the secrets of which they preserve vigilantly. This is how the highlanders come to ___________________
   *gourda - another name for a shashka made of Damask steel
   ** shagdi - a Kabardin thoroughbred
   ***kiyiz - a felt plaid Caucasian carpet
  
   manufacture bright soft felt rugs, hoarse felt boorkas and carpets.
   Delighted merchant asked the masterful women:
   - Where from do you take these colors?. One of them answered:
   - There, over this mountain is an alpine meadow. It is even brighter than our carpets.
   While Arykshoo acquainted his guest with the life in the aul, the bazaar activity did not stop for a minute.
   The people from neighboring villages were arriving by processions of carts, carrying to the caravansary felt boorkas, deer horns, homemade broadcloth, linen, and leather.
   After acquaintance with the local carpet makers, Lu Ting bought all the stock of felt rugs, broad -rimmed felt hats, and bundles of Adyghe braid. It was in abundance: of cotton, silk, gold thread, of converging and intertwining design.
   The merchant desired to see how the Kabardin women labor over these fine articles. He was astonished to know, that the weaver had to make two thousand plait movements with her fingers to produce but one yard of the five -layer cotton braid. Lu Tin bought many fine tobacco pouches, women belts, purses, powder pouches, comb cases, which were looking rich and exquisite. On the other side, there was no shoulder in the aul without a new piece of fine linen or muslin.
   Amysh and Pago received Lu Tin at the appointed time.
   - Are you satisfied with the trade you made in our gorge, merchant? - Amysh asked his guest after the exchange of pleasantries.
   - The life is such, that if one is with income, the other must be with a loss. But I am sure, that the happiness is not in the riches. To see something you never encountered before is the real enjoyment. Only the travelers are wise, experienced and lucky.
   - May be so. May be not, - doubted Amysh the merchant's maxim. - Here old Panuko is bound to his bed for many years, suffering of old wounds, but he is wise and experienced.
   The merchant smiled:
   - But not lucky, mind you.
   The strange intercourse was flowing unhurriedly in the koonak -room - prince's guest parlor.
   When the merchant spoke about the rich and the poor, Amysh interrupted:
   - Have you ever seen, merchant, anybody with an outstretched hand, begging in our auls? Nobody will pour the grains of a new harvest into the granary till he donates a part of his corn or millet to the poor. This is a law in our mountains.
   - No, prince. I have not seen any beggar with his hand outstretched. But what if there are mendicant people with outstretched souls?
   - What do you mean by that?
   - In an Arab land, far away and beautiful, I was in the fairy -tale garden, which embraced the ruler's palace sevenfold. "How did you like my garden?" - asked Emir, expecting praise.
   - What was your answer? - Amysh's voice betrayed his lively interest for the first time.
   - "Birds do not sing in your garden" - was my answer. "Without the bird's song this garden is but trees bearing fruits, sweet or sour. It is not important, since these fruits ripened in the garden where the birds were not singing. These lemons, and peaches, and quinces and figs will bear the taste of sorrow. And nothing here may be changed with the weight of the golden coins".
   - Was the Emir distressed by your words?
   - Yes. If not so, he would not order to fill my cap with silver reals. He said: "If it is impossible to buy the singing of the birds in my garden with money, I will pay at least for the outspoken truth". Have you got it all, prince?
   - But birds are singing in our gardens. True, those songs are sad sometimes. How can they be merry, if the warhorses of our enemies stamp our soil with their hoofs, neighing audaciously. But neither our hands, nor our souls are outstretched in begging. The hands we need to hold swords to protect our hearths, children and women; and our souls we need to strengthen our spirit, so that nobody will succeed to knock swords from the hands of those tired in battle or loosing hope, - the voice of Amysh trembled.
   More then a hundred dishes were served to their table. Pago was standing nearby - he ought not sit beside his father. The elders were scarcely touching the food. Both were eating little. But the etiquette of the highlanders demanded variety.
   - What are the main goods you trade with?
   Lu Ting stretched his hand and took from one of the three -legged tables an outlandish eastern fruit, which was brought with many others by the Hindu slaves.
   - A sweet produce for him who grew this fruit and exchanged it in the bazaar for the children's clothes, bread, bead necklace for the beloved.
   - And for the buyer?
   - Just a sweet fruit. So it was, and so it will be always. The Earth is turning, and this movement won't be stopped.
   - How vast is your knowledge, merchant! - said the prince pensively.
   - We all know but a single grain of a great harvest.
   Their conversation was long, and the stars were already shining in the skies.
   Amysh apologized.
   - The years take their toll. My body demands respite. Pago will continue our discourse.
   - My uzdens will escort your caravan to the Karachai auls. Nobody will dare to attack you in their presence - intervened Pago.
   Lu Ting put his hand to his heart:
   - Let the Gods prolong your glorious years.
   The slave poured the drink into the fine alabaster cups. The wine was crimson. The merchant took a pouch from his belt and dropped several dried chrysanthemum petals into the phials.
   - Let your way be easy - wished the prince to his guest, tasting the Chinese wine.
   - Let the strength of your juvenile years return to you - answered the merchant.
   One of them knew, that the youth will no return. The other was sure, that the way ahead was full of dangers. But the wine did not taste bitter for that.
   In the morning, when the golden hands of dawn shoved aside the black silk of the night and the gloom dispersed, the caravan, slowly swinging, resumed its way to Karachai. The camels' bells rang out.
   Pago was not sleeping. He seemed to hear the mysterious ringing of the camel bells for a long time. At this time the rainbow fell from the skies, drank the spring water and ascended into the void, leaving clouds, dressed in purple, in the height.
  
   Pago's wife, Malichipkh, was of the Circassian clan of Biberts. Prince Tsuhuh, her father, owned the aul of three hundred smokes on the Indyzh bank. The length of the aul was four shots. And the glory of it were the shadowy gardens, fat herds and flocks, and more - the best horses along Indyzh. Songs were composed in acclamation of Tsuhuh gallantry and valor of his warriors. But the best song was about his daughter - Malichipkh, in whose raven plaits many a courageous heart was trapped.
   She was matched with Pago. But Tsuhuh rejected the proposal:
   - Amysh son's mother is not a princess, but uzden, - answered he to the Amysh's embassy - and therefore his son is not a prince, but pshi -tuma.*
   Nobody in the world guarded the purity of the princely blood as Agyghes. Amysh knew it, as he also knew, that he was to blame that his son became pshi -tuma. And he was seeking a girl from a noble family for his wife, so that Pago's sons would become full -fledged princes and continued his pedigree line.
   - I'll burn your aul - threatened Amysh.
   But the Indyzh prince did not surrender.
   - I'll consent my daughter to be your wife. But not your son's wife.
   By that time there were no name in Kabarda or Circassia famous more, than that of Amysh. His popularity "was running ahead him".
   ____________________
   *pshi -tuma - a son of a prince and a gentry woman
  
   He has kidnapped the daughter of the ruler of Kaffa and sold her to the Daghestan Shamkhal.* And, kidnapping the Shamkhal's nephew, sold her to Kaffa. But his name resounded on the drums of glory, when he stole all harem of
   the Khan of Crimea and exchanged it to the same Khan for a single horse he liked. The stars were always predicting a success in his endeavors. He was being trapped, but somebody always warned Amysh.
   - Neither bullets, nor steel do him any harm - complained his enemies.
   - Aus Gerg himself embraces the prince - exclaimed the local priest, born in Genoa. The aul girls poured on him sweet poison from their eyes, but he did not gulp from the pitcher of love for a long time. Only once he kneeled to quench his thirst, put his parched lips to the healing spring, and was not able to drink his fill.
   Her name was Shkhafitsa. She was the daughter of the local uzden Totresh, who was afraid neither of the prince, nor of the shogen. Only to the all -mighty Tkha he delegated judgement of his deeds.
   They went to the raids together with the prince, divided the loot with him, escaped pursuits together.
   Totresh had the only daughter. Amysh had the only love. And the beginning of that love was a real story.
   Shkhafitsa was stealing glances at the prince, looked how he rode away on his horse on the next raid, and dreamt to make him a Circassian frock to replace the rugged and torn one he was wearing. How marveled she his weaponry, shining with golden notch ornament and embellished with gems! How often he visited her maiden dreams, approaching by mountain meadow, strewn with violets and lighted by the pale disc of the moon!
   - Let the horse of your luck never stumble - wished fourteen year old girl once
   to the young prince, departing with her father, with a trembling voice.
   The prince noticed young uzden girl for the first time. He saw her in a bright
  
   * shamkhal -the ruler of Daghestan
  
   halo, and some warm wave swept over him. Even his horse felt something and
   began to sidestep, snort, turning his clever head away. Amysh never felt such emotion, never inhaled such feminine aroma. Under the silk dress, under the leather chastity corset he suddenly felt the unyielding young body. And all during that raid the feeling did not leave him, was there, perturbing his heart, agitating his flesh.
   Shkhafitsa was fortune - telling with the scissors: they were to tell her whether the Tkha would save her beloved from the bullet and from the blade. But the prince still did not return. She saw swirling snakes in her dreams. In the mornings anguish squeezed her soul. The night before the koop returned, the young uzden maiden had again dreamed of violets on the mountain slopes.
   "This is a sign of future joy" - she decided.
   He brought her a Turkish scimitar, with the handle adorned with gems of immense beauty.
   -Cut my breast and see what you have done to my heart! - the prince said.
   She put aside the knife.
   - No need. Your eyes have told me everything. Leave the scimitar to yourself. You will cut my chastity leather corset with it.
   The same day he said to his uzden:
   - The time has come for your daughter to change her mother for a husband.
   Totresh was not surprised.
   - It won't be easy for you, prince. You can't marry her, or your sons will be pshi -tumas. I lived my life so: if I am traveling on my foot, I won't join the person on horseback. . The foot traveler must go with foot -travelers. You are a prince, and we are uzdens. Why give the fate a chance to win all the stakes?
   Amysh felt, that the cup of his luck went down on the scales of life.
   - "Why?" - are you asking me? Who knows the answer - me, or you, or she? Ask the God!
   - Then let the almighty Tkha help us! - sighed the warrior. - He sees everything, omniscient.
   And Skhafitsa covered her head with the head kerchief, folded in a triangle. The right end she put over the left shoulder, the left one was on her breast. This meant that she was engaged. Now she yearned for her beloved, as the bird in the golden cage. And one thought was always in the young head - "Is there a medicine from separation?".
   Oh, those highlanders' laws! Who have written them on the rocks and on the summit snows? The compasses of wisdom delineated that circle. No one can trespass these borders. Neither prince, nor a peasant.
   Amysh was keeping away from the home with the golden cage. Only once, when the sun slowly descended behind the silence of the neighboring peak, he knocked on the windowpane with the butt of his whip, made of hawthorn wood, ivory and silver.
   - Ask, what you want.
   - Remember my lips.
   - But I did not drink from that spring.
   - Then do not wait, till it dries up!
   And her brows - black twins - joined in the frown.
   After that the night covered her with the blanket of sadness. And this sadness slept with her. On the eve of this day she saw in her dream an apricot garden. The yellow fruit - clean, large, with drops of morning dew - bent the branches to the ground. And the girl knew that he would come.
   Amysh did not see any apricots in his dreams. He was the man of action.
   On the next day after their meeting the entire village was building a new homestead. Amysh had no right to bring Shkhafitsa to the prince's house.
   Amysh's aul was in the valley, which the sun lit for a whole day. The triple ring of peaks - green, then rocky, and then - just a little further - snow covered, surrounded the village houses, which were located in clusters, forming homesteads. These homesteads were situated at a significant distance one from the other. The dwellings were built of the thick wooden poles, with walls of wattle, covered by clay inside and outside. The hearth, the cot covered by the felt rug or a carpet, mattresses, blankets, unpretentious cutlery, weaponry hanged on the walls - these were nearly all living necessities of every aul hut. This was the way the uzdens lived. This was the way the peasants lived.
   - Both the Czar and the slave need only one shroud in the end of their life - said the grandfather of Amysh , the founder of this aul.
   Have you seen as the morning is being born in the Caucasus mountains? The peaks are still supporting the gray sky and the trees are shivering from cold in the orchards, but the first ray of the sun already touched the summit of the far mountain, and it suddenly comes to life, puts on a little rouge, and then becomes crimson. The newly born morning's music roar in the kingdom of the eternal snow. Now it will reach the valley, so as to sing, mixing with the aroma of the alpine meadow, with the vigor of the river, which the God has thrown on the bottom of the plateau, as a lariat on the grass.
   It happens day after day, for centuries and millenniums.
   Only thrice touched the dawn the far peak, only thrice the sun drowned in the cold of the far snows, when the homestead of three houses for Amysh and Shkhafitsa was completed. One house was for the newlyweds. The second - for the guests. The third was for the servants - unauts.
   The house for the newlyweds was situated in the center of the homestead. You had to pass through the garden, a part of which had to be cut to erect a reed -covered saklia*, sunny side of which was an open veranda, with its back turned to the apple and pear trees. Two veranda doors led to two suits of double rooms each. One had the room with the fireplace and the pantry, the other - two bedrooms.
   Shkhafitsa born to Amysh five sons: Totresh, Apanas, Badyn, Pago and Arykshoo. And two daughters, fair as the dawn.
   Three sons perished one day at Kanjal in the most severe battle of Kabardins
   _____________________
   *saklia - a Caucasian name for a house
   with the Crimeans, in the battle which covered the Kabardins with glory among the
   Caucasian nations. Amysh and Shkhafitsa had two sons left: Pago and Arykshoo. That's why Amysh hurried to marry the elder one - he didn't want his princely family tree to dry up. Amysh has called his sons.
   - I will not tell tales to please you. Tsuhuh from the banks of Indyzh refused to marry his daughter Malichipkh to Pago - said he somberly. The elder of his sons kept silence, as the Caucasian tradition required.
   - Or shall I roll the carpet of patience and put it into chest of waiting? - asked the father.
   - I will bring Malichipkh to our aul, - said Arykshoo, as if speaking of a deer hunt. He said it calmly in a low voice.
   - The fool seems clever until he keeps his mouth shut! - was the angry response. -You and your uzdens will be shot dead before you cross Indyzh.
   - You always said that once born, we are bound to die - objected Arykshoo.
   - I will send my proposals once more. I will beg Vali* for mediation - said the father, as if reasoning with himself.
   - No need to - said Arykshoo. - I will bring her. No one hair will fall from my head, or from the heads of our uzdens. Even the best horse may be knocked down, if the rider is a coward. That's how you brought us up. And my atalyk**? What he will think of his alumnus?
   - I will go with you - said Pago.
   But the old prince did not leave him any hope.
   - Until I will have a grandson, you will not depart together on any venture. Our family must not dry up as a branch on a fruitless tree. Go! - he blessed Arykshoo. - Take the best of our warriors. And try not to spill the blood of our future kinsmen.
   ________________________
   *Vali - a ruler and a High Judge
   ** atalyk - a man, to whom, traditionally, Kabardin princes and nobles gave their sons for upbringing and training in strict rules of Circassian etiquette, horsemanship and weaponry
   *** showlokh - another name for elite Kabardin thoroughbred
   Arykshoo appeared alone in the Bibert's aul. His friends the uzdens were waiting for him at a distance of three rifle shots from the village, festive that day with the Adyghe wedding. Appearing in the midst of the celebrating crowd on a magnificent brown showlokh, dressed in ruby -colored Circassian frock, carrying gold -ornamented weaponry, encrusted with ivory, he instantly attracted the
   attention of the feasting community. He joined the horseracing with the goatskin
   and won. He hit the hen's egg, sitting in a small hole on the field, at a full gallop with his rifle. He was the best in cutting the twigs with his saber. But his best achievement was with the bow and arrows - competition, which the Adyghes began to forget. During the "Udzh" dance the hands of Arykshoo and Malichipkh met.
   - What is your name, beauty? - asked the guest Tsuhuh daughter, to be double sure of his choice.
   - Malichipkh, - was the answer.
   He caught her, as the hawk catches his victim. Sitting her on the horseback, he directed his showlokh to the place, where his uzdens were waiting. He flew, snagging the girl, imagining, that she is Ustia - his captivating Cossack girl, and was happy.
   - Pursue them, but hold your fire! - ordered the prince to uzdens.
   And again he was lucky to escape from his pursuers - with the help of the spare horses and aptitude. After two times three days of their departure they arrived to their native aul.
   - Take the carpet of patience from the chest of waiting, - said Arykshoo to his father.
   -I have brought the bride for Pago.
   But Amysh was not in a hurry to rejoice. He ordered his fellow aul -dwellers to prepare for a siege.
   - Tsuhuh is a courageous warrior. He will guess, who has kidnapped his daughter and revenge her.
   That was the time when the high combat tower was erected in the aul. The masons from Svanetia were crackerjacks, but even they didn't know how to carry the heavy stone blocks on the place, where the tower was to be built. Then the solution was found. The wooden sledge -bridge was constructed, with the oxen traveling between the sledges in the center of it with the heavy blocks tied to their horns. The sledges were raised higher with the construction of the tower. High wall with the embrasures was surrounding the tower. Soon the aul was ready for a siege.
   Tsuhuh was not the one to keep you waiting. He appeared with the whole army of warriors, ready to punish the offenders.
   Amysh placed his riflemen on the both sides of the narrow gorge and ordered to shoot only the horses of the invaders.
   - I do not want to spill the blood of my kinsmen - said he to the aul dwellers.
   Real hail of bullets and arrows met the enemy. Tsuhuh lost all his horses. Arykshoo with a sharp arrow shot knocked away his high hat. Tsuhuh appreciated the wisdom of Amysh, who managed not to spill the blood of any of his future daughter -in -law's relatives. He sent a messenger to the old prince.
   "Let the newlyweds be happy" - was the message from Malichipkh's father.
   Amysh personally went out to meet the prince from the banks of Indyzh. In front of conflicting parties they embraced. Each of the warriors from Indyzh was presented with a Kabardin horse. A brown stallion and a white mare were brought for Tsuhuh.
   - They will have beautiful foals - said Amysh.
   - As beautiful as our future grandchildren? - smiled Tsuhuh.
   And then there was the wedding. Ah, those Adyghe weddings! Their ritual was elaborated in the centuries, to come to life as an event absolutely unique, inherent only to this nation, so close to it's character and way of life. Malichipkh was brought, as the tradition dictated, not to the house of Pago, but to one of his father's uzdens - Gorgonyzh, who was honored by such a privilege. Not because this was a future daughter -in low of his lord. This role was considered a gift from the Tkha. After some time spent under his roof, the girl was considered as his stepdaughter, and her children would be stepbrothers and stepsisters of Gorgonyzh grandchildren.
   After reconciliation of Amysh and Tsuhuh families, the master of the house presented his gifts to Malichipkh: a dozen of silk jahne (long shirts), embroidered with golden galoon and wickerwork; same quantity of cotton trousers with braid and hand -made plaited cords for belts; several small caftans, resembling male frocks, but adorned, to differ from the latter, with golden embroidery and massive silver and golden clasps; the galoon belt with leather lining, with a magnificent silver buckle four inches wide. This buckle was of two halves, which were fastened with a big pin. Galoon for this belt was the needlework of Gorgonyzh daughters. His sons brought the buckle from Daghestan, paying for it the Magrib golden coin. But the dress was the epitome of everything. After long discussions of the feminine part of Gorgonyzh family, it was decided to sew the dress not from velvet as was usual, but from cherry -colored fine satin. Many days of fine work resulted in a masterpiece: golden and silver galoons, sewn -on metal adornments, ornamental braid, lace. And all this was not in excess, selected with taste and tact. There were other gifts also: caps, shawls, and the triangle amulet with the Malichipkh family brand on a thick chain, a dozen of soft bright embossed leather shoes, with gold embroidered ornament. On the next morning after the feast, which was given in honor of the bride, it was the time to take her to the bridegroom's house. That's where the wedding festivity really began! In the crimson silk -covered wagon sat the bride with the Gorgonyzh daughters. In the coachman's seat was one of their brothers. A line of youths in festive dress was escorting the wagon. The crimson silk was flowing in the wind. The youths were singing:
  
   To be always happy,
   To be beautiful ever -
   We wish to the bride!
  
  
   A multitude of children,
   And mighty sons only -
   We wish to the bride!
  
   The horsemen were shooting their rifles just for noise, competed in knack and dexterity. One of Gorgonyzh daughters threw high her silk kerchief. The light fabric was slowly descending, when one of the riders caught it before it touched the ground, to the delight of the onlookers. The other daughter threw the kerchief on the ground. At once one of the young horsemen lifted it, bending low from his horse in full gallop.
   Close to the bridegroom's house the procession "was ambushed". A group of young men, armed with the sticks was waiting for the cavalcade. They decided to attack the bride's party, kidnap the bride, and, bringing her to the bridegroom's house, win the silk from the wagon for their sweethearts. Marja! Marja! - was the combat cry.
  
   Her neck to be graceful,
   Her hand to be ample -
   We wish to the bride!
  
   The wagon approached the ambush, and the fighting began. The real weapons were not used in such simulated battles, but no -nonsense blows and the spirit of fighting were real. The attackers managed to tear the silk cover from the wagon and to tear it to pieces for kerchiefs for their girls, but that was all. Escort defended the bride. After the skirmish they together raced to the bridegroom's house. And their song was heard in the high mountains:
   To pass no time idling,
   To be skilled house lady -
   We wish to the bride!
  
   Presently they arrived at the house of the bridegroom, whereto the aul dwellers were gathering carrying sweets, fruits, various presents. The fires were smoking in the yard. The big caldrons were emitting odor of the boiling beef, lamb and goat meat.
   - Open the locks! - the escort chief demanded. Arykshoo, other relatives and close uzdens received the bride. Along the live corridor, made by the male youths, the daughters of Gorgonyzh led Malichipkh to the bridegroom's house. Ahead of bride they carried a human -size doll, made of hazelnut.
   "Oridada", an ancient wedding song, sounded. One of the horsemen threw the daggers in the air, caught them expertly and stuck them into the ground in front of the bride. The crowd was rejoicing. The oldsters were sitting aside, looking very important. They were served some treats. And the great cup with marmazhey was circling the crowd. Stepping on the porch of the house, Arykshoo slightly lifted the silk veil from the face of the bride. The old women, who were greeting her future mistress, used this chance to touch the lips of the bride with honey.
   - Let your life be sweet!
   The bride entered the house.
   Soon the festive crowd grew too big for the yard, and it spilled to the outskirts of the aul. Here the youngsters were competing in the pole throwing and stone -throwing. White boorka, red bashlyk and a live goat lamb were the prizes for the victors. And especial fervor was shown in pulling a hoop, wound from the hazel twigs. Two teams of youths, holding each other by the waist, tried to overcome the combine strength of the competing team. The most important was the man who holds the hoop itself. Arykshoo led one of the teams. He commanded his comrades to swing slightly left and right, and then, after a moment's slack, to pull the hoop of all their might. In a wink the enemy team, pulled over the line, lost their hopes. When the target shooting commenced, the djigits* shot at the hen's eggs, sunk into the holes on the ground, at the goose egg on a long pole, shot with __________________
   djigit -Caucasian name for a skilful horseman, a warrior
  
   the bow and arrows, and cut the twigs with their sabers in full gallop.
   And what wanders the horsemen demonstrated in horse riding! They were running alongside with the horse in her full step, and then jumped into the saddle, shoot the target from under the belly of the galloping horse, were imitating a rakish dance on the croup of the ambling one.
   But the goat hide race was the main event. The goat hide was thrown to the
   horsemen, and they struggled for it while racing. This was the no -rules contest. One could drag the rider from the back of the horse, knock the rival's horse down, as was done in real combat - everything to get hold of the goatskin. Arykshoo was incomparable in this contest. Knocking down three horses and two riders, he got hold of the hide and made for aul. The pursuers followed him. But they were unable to override the prince's shawlokh. Nearing the aul, Arykshoo tightened the reigns.
   "What porch in the aul will I throw this hide on? According to our tradition, it is equal to proposing to the girl in that house. But my heart belongs to the beauty in the Cossack village long away!"
   The pursuers were gaining rapidly. Arykshoo threw the hide to the first of them.
   -Catch it! And be happy!
   Later at Pago's yard the obligatory ritual was held - bringing the bridegroom to the oldsters.
   - Shawo* is coming! Shawo!
   Pago appeared before them, surrounded by his friends. Amysh was sitting with the old men, too.
   The friends were leading Pago, holding him by the elbows. He was dressed in tight -fitting Circassian frock with leather pockets for the silver hazirs, made by best silversmiths, the belt with the set of silver adornments with black oxidized design, embossed with golden ornament. And magnificent Osman* dagger -one of
   ____________
   *shawo - the bridegroom
   the best made by that famous craftsman. A high fur hat covered his head.
   He was handsome.
   - Let peace and consent be in your house, - said the hundred -year old Bataraz, speaking in the name of all oldsters. He was a peasant, who took arms into his hands only to defend his aul from intruders. His hands knew better the handles of the plow.
   - And also I wish you with your bright -eyed princess to present your family with seven sons.
   The time will pass, and the wishes of Bataraz will all came to life. Seven knights will be born to Pago, seven warriors bright as the thunderbolt, pure as the snow on the peaks above.
   The wedding subsided, and aul slowly returned to the normal life. The smith was forging pincers for hearths and daggers; the millstones made flower of the corn and wheat grains; women were baking chooreks from that flower and lakooms* in the boiling oil. Somebody wove linen on the loom, somebody made felt rugs and boorkas. The livestock got fat in the pastures, and the foals played in the meadow.
   - Live as long, as the mountain - greeted the aul dwellers one another, meeting.
   And flame of a thin candle of hope and belief was flickering in their hearts.
   They prayed to the great Tkha and did not reject the sermons of priests from Genoa. Warriors usually did not visit church until sixty. Though they willingly took part in all the holiday festivities, whether dedicated to Mariam or Aus Gerg.
   The masculine half of the family and their uzdens were living according to their custom, as were living other princely families and uzdens of Kabarda. The war was their business. Sharp shooting from the bow and lately more and more from the rifles and pistols, horsemanship, and the ability to endure the limitations of the camping life were of utmost importance. Each of them was coining his personality himself. "You are either small or great depending on your own will" - they said.
  
   __________________________________
   *lakoom - a wheat pancake, prepared in the boiling vegetable oil
   Seeming idleness and recklessness, torn clothes with expensive armament, richly ornamented with gold and precious stones - all this was only a show. In real life nothing was easily gained. Everything they had they got with great effort, will, casualties and hard labor - the life at their atalyks, far from the native home and maternal endearment in childhood, and the ability to sacrifice their lives without hesitation for a common cause, for a comrade -in -arms, and primarily for their motherland. This motherland was not limited by a neighboring aul, neighboring rocks, by the meadow, where the favorite karagozes* were grazing. This land spread from Black to Caspian Sea and was called Caucasus - the proud name, born in the result of the eternal struggle of Zeus and Thyphon, struggle of the celestial and plutonic fires, and, hence, from the lava -sputtering Elbrus. The war of these elements transferred later to Sicily, to Etna, but the name stayed. "Kav" means melting snow and ice from the summit of the Mountain of Happiness, and "kazh" - spewing lava. For this land every highlander is ready to sacrifice his life, to give his blood - drop by drop. But only the princes and uzdens were brought up as warriors from their birth. Did that mean, that the local gentry and peasants could not handle their weapons and horses? Of course, not. The will to inspire self -respect and respect of the others was instilled in the character of every Kabardin and gave him the strength to overcome any oppression. This will save any prince and any peasant from desperation.
   - Where there is no will, do not look for a path on the mountain pass - said Amysh. And also he said to his sons and his workhs**: - The force of your will must overcome the weakness of your body. And more: -You can forgive the others an unworthy action, but yourself - never.
   That's how this aul lived, and the neighboring one, and the whole of the Adyghe land. Everybody knew, that the hardships breed in the people the ability to
   _____________________________________________________________
   * karagoze - loving name for a pet horse, translation from Turkish: " black eyes"
   ** workhs - the nobles, immediately following the princes in Circassian hierarchy, senior to uzdens
  
   overcome them . They were used to everyday training of their body and soul, their will and mind. The princes of many auls and the nobles close to them were living by their own code of honor, worn clothes, resembling common clothes, with difference quite indistinguishable, but which differed their powerful clan from all the other clans, their class from all other classes. They concluded secret collusions, recognized the ally at a single glance. They could interchange their thoughts at a distance. A single gesture of the hand, a touch, movement of a shoulder, slight tremor of eyelashes or a sigh were enough to warn a friend about forthcoming
   danger, to call or to beg to stay. They were taught to recognize this mute language
   of one another from their childhood. When necessary they even spoke their own language, unfathomable for commoners. This was a spare weapon of these professional warriors, helping them to oppose any enemy, any treachery. It's a wonder - where from did they know the secrets of flexibility and toughness of steel, which made their plain weaponry awesome? Where from they knew the exact measure of their rifle charges?
   Amysh - the unrivalled ruler of the aul - demanded that his peasants must have the best combat training. Combat sports events and competitions made their youngsters excellent warriors. Every man in the aul had weapons and was obliged to master his military skill. The prince also had a large stock of arrows, bows, rifles and ammunition to defend his village from any enemy. But much more then their gourdas, rifles or pistols the highlanders loved their horses. As the famous horses of Hun Attila, the Kabardin horses were specially trained for combat. They followed the slightest movement of the horseman's knees. This made both hands of the Kabardin warrior free for shooting rifle at full gallop, or for plain weaponry in close combat. The horses also took part in fighting - their dressage included biting the enemy and trampling with hoofs.
   In the Amysh's family the art of horse breeding was being transferred from one generation to the next. This important business was delegated neither to workhs, nor to peasants. The master raised the horse for himself. From the very birthday the shoal, selected for the prince, grew under his observation.
   Amysh loved his Alp* with unspeakable love. He wouldn't exchange him for a herd of Arab racers. Alp, as any horse, which underwent combat dressage, was kept in the herd with which, rain or shine, he galloped on the crisscross terrain, found food and water for himself year round.
   - What shall I do with a horse, which will not endure the hardships of the raid as I do? - said Amysh.
   Kabardins kept their horses in the herd until eight, sometimes until nine years old.
   By that time the horses became high, strong and enduring. But Amysh took his Alp from the herd when the horse was only four. After breaking him in to the saddle he kept Alp with dozen of his best racers on a separate pasture. He trained him thoroughly, but the care and the food were special. First Amysh gave him small portions of oats, then these portions were increased. This continued for a month. When Alp put on weight with such feeding, Amysh began to drive him into cold water, after which he fed Alp some millet. It was repeated several times in the beginning of the summer and winter seasons. Little by little Alp grew a strong, neat, wiry and enduring horse, ready for long marches and difficult raids. Amysh could cover on his Alp one hundred miles during one night and morning.
   The prince always groomed Alp himself. First he cleaned him with the dry hay, then he washed him, whispering something into the horse's ear. What he whispered remains a secret to everybody. The loyal horse followed his master, knew the time he will come to take him from the herd, and was neighing of joy, stumping his hoofs. He ran to his master at the slightest whistle or a clap of his hands. Brown stallion with a slightly elongated body, swan's neck and arched nose - that was Amysh's horse. Nobody remembers a day, when the prince tasted his meal without feeding his horse first. Neither he drank a gulp of water, prior to watering Alp. And he had no friend more loyal.
   Once in the Transkuban area he was hit by the Cossack bullet and fell into the
   ___________________
   * alp - a name of the legendary horse of the Caucasian Nart epic
   precipice, to the very bottom, where the small river flowed. His comrades were having a severe fight with the Cossack patrol. After the battle they looked for their chieftain, but in vain. And when the Cossacks got enforcement, they had to go. When they noticed, that the horse of their leader is also absent, they decided, that Alp was killed together with his master. But he was not. He hid in the gorge, and in the night, when the pursuers rode away, the loyal horse went by unfamiliar path down to the bottom, found his dying master, lied alongside with him, and pushing him to bring him to senses, made him to hang crosswise over the saddle. He returned home before the koop was there, carrying the wounded prince. When the comrades of Amysh returned home, and stopped their sweating horses beside his house, one of them approached the porch and uttered the traditional mourning formula for the one, who did not return from the raid:
   - Amysh, have you returned home?
   The unaut appeared on the porch and said:
   - Yes, he returned. A quack from the neighboring aul treats his wounds.
   Many a time Alp knocked down the enemy horses in the midst of battles. Many times he tore with his teeth at the hands of those aiming at his master with a pistol or a sword. That was the kind of horses they bred in Amysh's aul. And in neighboring ones. And all over Kabarda. May be this was one of the reasons, why the Adyghe cavalry was undefeatable.
  
   Amysh's aul was situated at the place, where the narrow gorge, throwing its sides in a wide embrace, formed a beautiful valley, surrounded by mountains from all sides. The entrance to aul was only one - through this narrow gorge. On both sides of the aul, the inhabitants engineered powerful artificial stone -slides. Two -three villagers were able to start the deadly stone avalanche any minute. And then the enemy would be locked in the stone sack: from one side - the impassable rocks, from the other -a high ravine, at the bottom of which the river was suffocating by white foam. There were, true, two very difficult mountain paths, leading to aul or from it. But even in summer they were a daredevil's choice. In winter they were impassable. All the huts in the aul were orientated in such a way that the sun shone on their verandas and windows all day long. The shadow side was turned to the gardens, growing on accurate terrazzo. The aul inhabitants did not cultivate vegetable gardens, except some savoury, onions and garlic, though they collected the wild fruit and berries, parsley, dill and pepper. In the mountain pastures they collected lots of mint, rhododendron leaves, and wild tea. From time to time the tranquility of this existence was disturbed by the rifle shots and cries, meaning that in some family a son was born. And then the village prepared for a celebration. When the newly born was a girl, there was no shooting. Sometimes it was wedding, sometimes funeral. There were no beggars or starving in the village. Nobody asked anybody anything, except one neighbor could ask another for a sieve.
   Those families, which were left without the provider, as was inevitable in constant wars, were brought their fair share of corn, mutton, a barrel of white cheese. Nobody locked the doors, as well as chests, flour or millet bins. It was considered impossible to steal something in the aul. May be a bride for a djigit, so as to feast together and wait for new aul dwellers to be born.
   The flame was alive in the aul's hearths. The terrazzo gardens bloomed, bringing forth sweet fruit every autumn. Every peasant yard had several pairs of oxen to plough the land and grow millet, corn and wheat. The herds were grazing in the mountains, the sheep and cows got fat. But bee keeping was the favorite occupation. The wax and honey from Amysh aul were famous all over Caucasus. And the aul parish worshipped their beloved goddess Marissa - the Mother of God, saint protector of bees.
   After the long - distance raid to Persia, when seventeen Kabardins broke into Resht and looted as much gold and silver from Gilyan, as their powerful horses could carry, the people composed a song about Arykshoo.
   "The garden will dry up, the fortress walls will collapse, even the mountains will become lower, but the song will not die, because its creator, the man, will survive on the Earth." You can be brave all your life, fearless of bullet or a Damask blade, but only once fear will overcome you, and everybody forgets of your past brave feats. It is difficult to be a hero, as difficult, as being a wise man. Arykshoo is a hero. He will not betray his camaraderie and brotherhood. Courage never leaves him. What for is the life without fame? The death with the glory is better!" Those were the words of that song. And the prince loved it. Not only because it was a song dedicated to him, but because those words touched some strings in his heart.
   It was after that Hazass raid and after that song that a koonak* of Gorgonyzh - a Cossack from Ekaterinograd village appeared in their aul. That was the Cossack village once attacked by Arykshoo koop.
   The koonak expressed his desire to meet the prince, and at that meeting he handed Arykshoo something, wrapped carefully into homemade linen. The
   prince unwrapped the bundle with greatest care, as if waiting for some miracle, and saw the family cross, which he put to the ground in front of the Cossack girl that confounded day.
   -Ustia asked me to tell you, that as she came to know, this cross is your family relic and should be kept safe in your family.
   The prince was contemplating the cross silently. Then said:
   - How she came to know that this is my family cross?
   - Every night a very old man and a young maiden were coming to her in her dreams. They were sitting in a deep underground cellar with icon lamps burning. Every time the maiden asked her: "Return the cross to the owners. It belongs to the noble family, and was presented to them in the name of the Almighty. It will not bring you happiness".
   There was a long pause
   - Ustia has born you a son, - said the Cossack., koonak of Gorgonyzh. Saying so he went out. Arykshoo has heard it and did not forget. But even at that warm season his soul was still covered with snow.
   It was customary in the aul to go for a council to Jamada. He was not a warrior, he
   _________________________________________________
   *koonak - an acknowledged friend, having certain rights and obligations
  
   was a wise man.
   - What will happen, if a falcon will sit on a breast of a pheasant? - Arykshoo asked him.
   - Nothing good for a cock. - was the answer.
   The prince turned to go, but the wise stopped him.
   - Only these mountains are older, than me all around, - said he - I have seen a lot in my life. I know much and I will tell you: remember, prince, that in our youth we imagine our sorrows. The real sorrows come later, but we keep silent about them.
   A dumb question froze in the eyes of Arykshoo.
   - Do not extinguish the torch of hope, - said Jamada, - and take your horse outside.
   The Arykshoo's horse was hitched to the post, bored stiff by a long rest. When the Cossack wagons came from the plains with the load of melons and watermelons, accurately laid with the straw, Arykshoo said to the teamsters:
   - Will be in your village soon. Alone. To see my son. Let them meet me not as a prince, but as a warrior in a time of recess, when the fire of enmity is just smoldering, if not gone out completely.
   - We will pass your words to our elders, - was the answer.
   After that the prince couldn't untie the knot of his brows.
   " Best of all not to commit anything - thought he - then you will not have to beg for forgiveness".
   The day was changed by night. The night was changed by morning. And every time, when the dawn fog threw his hands to the sky, Arykshoo thought: " Is there such a guilt, which can not be forgiven?"
   The wheat on the Cossack fields long died, cut by the sickle, when Arykshoo reached Terek, and then Balkh. The larks were rejoicing in the sky, singing songs of joy. He entered a Cossack village. The smoke from the kiziak* fires was ascending in swirls from the chimneys of the reed -covered huts. Cossack matrons were chatting at the wattle fences, stopping dead when they saw the prince. A then, shaking off the stupor and agitatedly jingling their silver and golden coin necklaces, cried one to another in excitement " Ena!..."
   The villagers were waiting for him. The elders, who put their sabers into scabbards long ago, said:
   - The quarrel is the commencement of a fight, the fight is the commencement of
   enmity, enmity is a beginning of peril. Why select such fate? Let Arykshoo see his son!
   The prince has brought with him furs of ermine, ruby, scarlet as pheasant's blood, Magrib golden coins, and Damask blades for shashkas. Felt and Oriental sweets.
   they received this abrek, as Kabardins receive guests of honor: they laid raven black boorka on the ground and led Arykshoo on it, while the young Cossacks kept the boorka sides in their hands.**
  -- I want to see my son.
  -- Sure! - was the answer.
   His way to Ustia resembled the flight of the mole to the fire, which burns. His horse, craning his neck, followed his master. Arykshoo's thoroughbred was so beautiful, that the other horses seemed lame in comparison.
   The prince would recognize her amongst all women of the vast world.
   - Beauty, - whispered he with lips gone white.
   Yes, she was a beauty among her girl friends. Bandaged by white head kerchief, dressed in long yellow shirt and yellow high boots she descended to him from the porch, as if from the skies.
   "Almighty Tkha, don't leave me, help me" - flashed in his mind.
   The Cossack woman was already near. Arykshoo inhaled her scent, felt her waist under the thin fabric... The hot lump stuck in his throat. Something gave in his mighty body. His will left abandoned him for a moment.
   "Let my life abandon me, but not my courage" - throbbed in his head.
  
   __________________
   *kiziak - hearth fuel made of the cow dung mixed with straws
   ** this is a description of Kabardin traditional version of "red -carpet reception"
  
  
   Ustia put her arms akimbo, as Cossack women habitually do, and seemed higher and more slender for that, with her breasts filling her tight shirt fit to burst. Blue eyes were flaming, as if somebody ignited them. No, it was not hatred - they were burning of many passions.
   Ustia tugged at the collar of her shirt, tearing it. A full breast came free, with the teat, bursting with milk. She pressed it. And a strong thin stream burst away, dropping on the ground in heavy drops.
   - Have you come to taste my flesh once more? Beware, I am different now. Don't you remember how you made me a woman?
   The crowd giggled. The oldsters hushed them, and the laugh subsided. The translator wanted to help, but Ustia stopped him.
   - No. I'll manage, - and spoke in Kabardin language.
   Arykshoo did not hear. The fair hair of Cossack matron squeezed his neck as a lariat.
   - Bring out his son - ordered the oldsters.
   Ustia silently obeyed.
   Arykshoo did not take a child in his arms, and did not make a step to him.
   - Lets go to our aul. You will become my wife.
   - No, abrek! Nobody can force me to.
   From far away a cuckoo sounded, making Ustia's words even more painful. The daggers of her eyes penetrated his heart.
   "As a plough into the soft soil" - came to his mind.
   The cuckoo continued her call.
   - Then let me take my son!
   Ustia shook her head speaking quickly in Circassian:
   - Mother is like a God's name in the mouth and in the souls of children. Do not deprive your son of that.
   The land was sliding beneath Arykshoo.
   - Let her feed my son by her breast -milk until five. No need to spill it on the ground. It was not devised for that. After five years you will give me my son. All your villagers and our aul dwellers will become koonaks. - He was speaking with the voice of authority now, who would tolerate no objection.
   The oldsters were not afraid, but, being wise people, consented.
   - Be it so.
   - Call him Wazermes.
   - Wazermeska*, good - oldsters nodded.
   The Cossack convoy escorted the prince to Terek.
   - Don't take offence, abrek! We won't force her. But we'll grow up your son a warrior, - Said Nazarka, the leader of the convoy. Arykshoo handed him a pair of Turkish pistols, ornamented with gold, silver and ivory.
   - I cannot give you my horse. He is a friend of mine. Take these as a memento of our meeting.
   Cold wind blew from the banks of Terek." It's night already", thought Arykshoo, pulling boorka more tightly around his waist.
   After the wedding festivities abated, shawo was to return to his house as a husband. Malichipkh took off her wooden velvet covered stilts, adorned with silver, and went to the bedroom. Had she feel love for Pago? She knew him little. Sure, he was handsome and statuesque. There was force and assuredness in his every movement. But love... No! She thought that this feeling is a crown for something exalted, warm and bright. Neither in her head, nor in her heart she had such feeling. She was too youthful and wanted to revive some of the feeling, which she felt in the morning.
   And now, looking at the bed - mattresses and pillows, filled with fragrant grass, covered by home made linen, the girl reasoned: " The feeling, of which I am dreaming, is like a tree. It will grow up all by itself. It will root, grow green, and then blossom".
   _________________________________________
   * -ka - a particle, added to the name of the person, indicating either youth, or insignificant social status
  
   Under the natty dress Malichipkh wore the maiden chastity corset - the object of dressing of every mountain girl. Made of red morocco leather, it began very high, reaching her armpits and went low to her hips.
   Many a time at home she rioted against this leather armor.
   - It prevents free movement! Deprives of freedom!
   But her chaperons and nannies every time convinced her of its necessity.
   -You are a beauty, - they said - And you must be slender, your breast must be flat, and your waist thin, not more then the length of your shoelaces. (twenty inches).
   Now on his first wedding night, Pago had to unlace the corset and take it off forever. The girls, who dressed Malichipkh on the eve of the wedding, tangled the laces of the corset, to see how impatient the bridegroom will be. And if these laces would be torn, they were sure to laugh at the shawo.
   The night, as the wounded bird, was falling into the rising dawn, when the friends released Pago, and he stepped over the bedroom threshold. First his eyes were wary, but Malichipkh met her husband quietly.
   - My father said: " If you are lucky - you will be happy in your wedlock, if not -well, then you will live as everybody does". I know, that the life does not consist of holidays only. But I am ready to share with you hardships, grief or woe - whatever the Tkha Almighty will send us.
   - Your father is as wise, as he is brave. The two spouses have two souls, but must have one will.
   In the dim light of the bedroom Malichipkh began to undress. Seeing her morocco corset, Pago said impatiently:
   - Woman does not need panoply. She must not be dressed in armor. The main thing for her is to undress in time - and he tried to untie the laces of the corset.
   - Do not hurry - said Malichipkh. - The girls intentionally tangled the laces to have a laugh at your impatience in the morning. I do not want that. Let me help.
   And they untied the cunning knots together. And then their arms knotted not to be untied forever. The lips whispered, and the eyes vowed loyalty. Their love was like a storm. They had neither strength to overcome it, nor time to wait till it abated. She threw the window open to let moonshine in.
   - What are you thinking about? - she asked.
   - When you escape from the pursuit, you cannot think of anything else. Same now. What about can I think but you?
   They did not cool off from their wild love, but were tired of loving, when their wedding night was awakened by the morning. A thin ray tenderly touched her face, making her frown sleepy eyes. Very thin ray. So the life, taking Malichipkh by hand, led her to her adult years. Now she could not wait for Pago to return.
   The time will pass, and Pago will say:
   - When I am home, I see no difference between my unaut and me.
   He could not live a simple family life.
   - I am not a clacking hen with the brood - said he to his friends.
   He could not live just for the beloved woman.
   - I am not a dove!
   He considered a shame to live for himself.
   Malichipkh managed not only to love Pago, but also to become a real first lady. She saw him departing on a raid with a nonchalant smile. She met him on his returns from combat, hiding her joy. Was she ideal for Pago? May be not. But she was a wife to respect, a wife to consult, oh, yes!
   The first of seven sons was Dabech. Only after his birth Amysh met Malichipkh. Their eyes met. Malichipkh lowered her arrow lashes.
   - Sunny faced! - said the old prince.
   Only these two words. But they were enough to show his liking for his daughter -in -law. In honor of this meeting he presented Malichipkh with ivory combs, a rich head kerchief to cover her hair, as matrons wore, a dozen of silk shirts of different colors, soft morocco high boots, a Siberian downy shawl, which was so fine, that could pass through a ring, cashmere kerchiefs, lengths of red and white cotton, satin, silk. But the best to the Malichipkh's taste was the ermine coat.
   To commemorate the birth of his first grandson and his meeting with daughter -in -law the old prince ordered to slaughter as many oxen and lambs as was necessary for the aul to feast.
   During that feast Amysh sent a message to the wife of his son: "Ask whatever you want!".
   Usually the young wives used this chance to visit with their parents or to go to the Taman or Kapla fairs. But Malichipkh asked him a different favor.
   - Do not give Dabech to atalyk for upbringing. Let him grow up in his native aul.
   Amysh had to reject that request:
   - I was not the one who set that tradition, and I will not recall it. We, the Adyghes, always lived by the law: "The more you know, the more you can". Knowledge and skill are the best of mail shirts and will help in any hardship. Upbringing is like air we breath, like our conscience. Training a young boy to be a warrior at home, we won't be able to force him to behave right, to love his future dangerous work.
   Malichipkh understood Pago's father. By her feminine intuition she understood, that in the paternal home Dabech will not get everything, which makes the pursue of good a man's need, and which makes the bad good. She guessed, that the tradition of atalyk is a great one, which sets the future of the Kabardin man. Amysh's word resounded in her mind: "The best of all people is the one who had worthy upbringing".
   The first to step over the threshold of the Pago's house after the birth of his son was the Adygheyan* warrior Hagoor. Hearing of Pago's joy, and that he is the first guest after the birth of a boy, he announced his desire to take Dabech for upbringing.
   - Tkha has sent me one more son - said the Adygheyan simply. - I promise to bring him up so that his courage will match his intelligence, justice and pride. He will be honest and true. And his consciousness will be a highest judge for himself.
   - We do not want a better teacher for Amysh's grandson, - said Pago modestly.
   But Malichipkh didn't agree to part with the newly born son. So quiet and reasonable and seemingly obedient, Pago's wife suddenly turned mutineer:
   - Do not offence the clan of my father. Let the breast milk of Biberts feed the grandson of Tsuhuh during usual feeding years.
   Amysh shook his head, laughing:
  -- My daughter -in law is clever. Calling Tsuhuh's name to help her ends! So be it! Only the nation with good mothers may become great.
  
   Atalyk life for Dabech began only after several years. In Adygheya he was first surrounded by nannies and an old unaut, Kanja by name, who never left the boy alone. Earlier Kanja was the one who served to the master of the house during his raids - unthinkable privilege for a servant. He took part in many battles. Three bullet and five saber scars reminded of those days. But with time passing, Hagoor stopped taking the loyal unaut in his raids.
   - He grew old. Let him rest, - said his master, pitying his unaut -warrior.
   But the old servant longed for action, loitering around household. He never knew any civilian skill, either being in the raid, or busy preparing for it. Now, with the arrival of a small Dabech, he was having an important and responsible occupation. Bad is the teacher, who does not remember his own childhood. Kanja narrated fairy tales and stories to Dabech. Unauts were singing him songs. The maidservants doted on the boy, feeding him the best tidbits they could lay their hangs on. And though Hagoor had three sons, Dabech was having more attention. Hagoor's attitude to Dabech was special. All love and care, which the tradition forbade him to show to his sons, he gave to Dabech with pleasure. They brought for his alumnus a small pony, bought a small bow with arrows, small dagger and a short shashka. After one year the atalyk separated with his pupil only during raids. They spent all spare time together. Kanja was jealous, and vented his distress, bringing sweets to Dabech. But Dabech was more attached to Hagoor. And the teacher, knowing, that the atalyk must not hurry, was performing his great task laboriously, with utmost care. Adyghes day: "The father is not he who gave birth to a child, but who brought him up".
   Day after day the character of Dabech was sculptured. Later, remembering years, spent in Adygheya, Dabech will turn in his head the maxims of Hagoor.
   "The main victory is not over the enemy, but over yourself".
   "Desperation is a human mistake".
   "Want to win victory? Be cold blooded".
   " The man consists of his actions. The rest is a preparation for them".
   The main thought which Hagoor was instilling in his pupil from the very first day, was that the greatest feats are committed in the name of Motherland. He who has no love for the land of his fathers, is a mendicant in his heart.
   Gradually Dabech used to pay more attention to physical exercises. First they resembled childish games. But with time the games turned into obligatory training sessions, difficult and even grueling. And Hagoor with Kanja continued to erect different obstacles, which the boy had to overcome.
   Dabech's mother often came to him in his dreams. It was one and the same dream: she runs in the meadow in full bloom, extending her arms and calling "Bech!" But in that dream he was standing silently. Only the wind swayed the flower heads, the clouds pass over his head and a giant bird is hanging in the sky scarcely moving its wings. Then mother vanished. He woke up and always thought: "How silly I am! Why I did not run toward her, why did not embrace her, holding her close to my heart?"
   It was same every time. Only once she managed to reach him. Embraced him Touched his cheek with her fingers and said: "You grew so big, my boy!..."
   In the morning Kanja asked Bech:
   - What happened to your cheek?
   On that spot on his cheek, which his mother Malichipkh touched, was a burn. It did not heal for a long time. The nannies tried to apply the fat of the wild goose, but in vain. In the next dream Bech asked his mother: `Why did you burn me?"
  -- " It's a flame of my heart".
   Only once Bech said to his atalyk:
  -- I want to see mommy.
   Hagoor did not ridicule him and was serious:
  -- I am an adult man, but I still want to see my mommy. It is not bad. But you will have to postpone it for a time
   Dabech liked to observe the djigit's competitions. Not only in horsemanship, but also in singing and eloquence. Hagoor was paying more and more attention to his pupil's horsemanship and marksmanship - bow and arrows, rifle, pistols. Once atalyk caught Dabech fit to cry, because his arrows were falling far from the target.
   - That's a very small misfortune to get so upset over it.
   - What if a bigger one happens?
   - It won't be long. You will have to endure it, to overcome it. Then it will go. Your arrows? They will be right on the target. You will manage. Any success begins with a victory over your self.
   Hagoor knew very well, that the worst thing in the world is a man without a backbone.
   - If there is no will to win, there will be no end to any road - taught he Dabech.
   Was he too strict to his boy? Yes, probably. Because he loved him and understood, that this strictness is a good medicine, which has in it more sweet, than bitter. Hagoor suppressed any demonstration of weakness, bad temperament, touchiness. Pride - yes! Conceit - no...
   He did not spare any effort to instill in his mind, that only real men might sustain the strikes of destiny. Once his elder son hit a clumsy slave.
   - Was my brother right? - asked Dabech.
   - If you consider him wrong, never do as he did.
   - But how in my life I will know what is not to be done?
   - Your heart will tell you. Remember that the laws of decency are obligatory for everyone - be he a king or a slave.
   Dabech knew, that the daughters of Hagoor are his sisters. He was treating them accordingly, but the other girls in the aul were exciting, awakening desires in him. They also were not indifferent to young and handsome Kabardin. Was there something more satisfying, then stolen glances? God knows.
   More then anything Dabech liked his discourses with Hagoor at a fireplace. Summer or winter, no difference. The flames warmed not only body, but also the soul. They touched different matters, but during these discussions the inner world of Bech was forming.
   - Which words may be considered gratifying? - asked he.
   - Those, which denote useful things.
   - I do not get you, ada*. Useful are my frock, silver dagger, shashka...
   - No, you are speaking of objects.
   - So what is usefulness?
   - Knowledge, first of all.
   The other time the boy had asked:
   - Is it possible to be the first in everything? I want to be.
   - Of course, it is possible, - smirked atalyk.
   - How?
   - If you speak yourself, not giving anybody a chance to express their opinion.
   Bech understood, that he was being ridiculed.
  -- No!
  -- Then be the first to listen and do not hurry to speak. And more, my son - never speak so long that somebody says - "That's enough. Stop talking!"
   Once Hagoor made pastah** in lagoop,*** teaching his pupil how to do it.
  -- Women should make Pastah! - protested Bech.
  -- Yes, - consented atalyk, - but men must also know how to do it. We have no women with us in the raids.
  
   _________________
   * ada - father
   ** pastah - a thick mash of boiled millet, used instead of bread, hot and cold
   *** lagoop - a copper caldron
   Putting thick millet mash on a round table, he put some pieces of half dried fat lamb meat on a stick and showed to Dabech how to roast it over the coals.
  -- Is this the way you do it during raids?
  -- Yes.
   They were eating this unpretentious, but very tasty food, and Bech said:
   - You often say, that this is a worthy man, and that one, and the other... Do they
   have no flaws?
   - Why not? Everybody has flaws. But those, whom I called worthy, have more meritorious sides to their character, than flaws.
   Then he thought for a moment and continued:
  -- It's also possible to have many merits, but to be a bad man.
  -- How come?
  -- A man must not only have good qualities, but also use them masterly.
   With every day Hagoor was increasing the load on his alumnus. Bech had to spend hours in the saddle, take the unsaddled horses to watering place, to shoot a lot, and to perform physical exercises. It seemed sometimes, that there would be no end to this. But in the morning Bech felt a desire for movement. His young body demanded the habitual exercise, and Bech could not imagine his life without it.
   He was taught that some actions are a taboo: to beat the ground or the flame with a stick or with a whip; to step on the bread, choorek, or other food; to throw seeds into a flame; to tear the green grass, the bush and tree branches without necessity; to kill insects; to torture animals.
  -- It is a sin to defraud people, - taught him Kanja.
  -- Never offend the weak, - said Hagoor
   "Never spit into the water".
   "Obey to the elders".
   And of course they instilled into his mind, heart and soul the main commandment: "Love your mother, defend your brothers and sisters, be loyal in friendship, respect your father after the Almighty Tkha, and value your motherland above everything on the Earth".
   Atalyk was teaching him the laws of the Adyghe knighthood, based on the hospitality, respect of the elders, and the right to revenge.
   - May a man learn from his enemies? - asked the boy.
   Kanja was surprised by this question, but answered: "He must".
   Later, when Dabech will grow up, Hagoor will devise a new game for him.
   He was saying:
   - It is easy for a strong man to teach...
   And Dabech had to find the right answer momentarily:
  -- a weakling!
  -- A healthy man can teach...
  -- Ailing!
  -- A happy one...
  -- the unhappy!
   Gradually the game was becoming more complex:
  -- Never flatter yourself...
  -- and you will not be defrauded.
  -- Don't harry with...
  -- advise.
  -- Roughness is a flaw of...
  -- the weak.
  -- What you have to master to be eloquent?
  -- The art of silence!
  -- After committing a good act...
  -- do not hurry to tell about it.
   Bech liked this game. It made you to think fast, to answer short, to train your mind. It formed character. Later, when he returned to Kabarda and became an experienced warrior, Dabech in his leisure hours often remembered the words of his atalyk: " Cultivate ability to listen. Do not object, but argue. Distinguish clever from stupid. And then discuss with the man any problem".
   - Do you know, that one wise men told me the words of another wise: "To speak much and to say much is not the same".
   Training Bech's body, atalyk trained his endurance and made him agile and strong. But he was more proud of his success in training his alumnus' mind and will.
   In his youth years Dabech knew, that the one who masters his will - is strong; one who is stubborn - is silly; that you will survive sternness, but will suffer much more from a lie.
   When his pony broke his leg and was to be shot, the boy was in despair. He lost his first friend in his life. Old Kanja said then:
  -- The grief comes to anybody. Some can cope with it, the others surrender. You are a man and must bear your grief with dignity. The horse for you is growing up in the herd long ago.
  -- I know. But will that horse become as good a friend to me?
  -- May be not so good as the very first one. But a friend. If not, how you will go with him on the raids?
  -- If I got you right, it is useless to shed tears for something lost forever?
  -- Yes. You got it right. It is useless. So becalm you soul.
   Bech loved Kanja. Not with same love he had for Hagoor or his sons - Aznaoor, Tembot, Sahatbi, who became his brothers. But it was a strong and mutual feeling. Falling from the horse, or cutting his finger, or just feeling sad - he was running to Kanja.
  -- Dada* Kanja! Look!
   His fairly tales he loved most. They sat at the fire and fried half ripe corncobs full with milky juice on the hot coals. It was a warm autumn evening. The moon was spying from the side of the cloud. The fire burst with sparkles. Or may be that wasn't the fire, but the corn seeds bursting? Kanja was speaking slowly, as if lulling Bech to sleep, as if not narrating, but singing the fairy tale:
   _________________
   * Dada - grandfather
   - "Know, that if you mount a horse, and ride for two days and two nights to the waters of Baxan, the horse will take you to the summits of Oshkhamaho*, white as milk. These summits reach the sky, they are inaccessible to humans. Only almighty gods play on the bosom of Elbrus. They drink their nectar - sano** - a drink of vigor and revelry".
   The flames were licking the darkness. Two giant shadows lied side by side by the fire - Bech's and Kanja's. Everything was becoming spooky, and Bech hugged closer to the old unaut. "Once the almighty gods invited a man of the land to drink
   sano with them. He was nart* Sausyrooko, in your Kabarda he is called Sosrooko.
   "Drink this horn of sano, man" - said they. And Sausyrooko drank a horn of the divine drink. The world seemed even more beautiful after that.
   "And now, Sausyrooko, go and tell the people about our drink" - said the gods.
   But Sausyrooko loved people. He grabbed the barrel with sano with his mighty hands and threw it down from Elbrus. The barrel broke. And sano flowed into the nart valleys. Beautiful vines of grapes, never seen before grew where it touched land.
  -- That is how grapes appeared at our house - guessed Bech.
   Kanja took the boy in his hands and brought him to the saklia. It smelled of apples and fairy -tales.
   Later, when Dabech became a slender youth, whose waist cold be tied with one shoe -lace, with the shoulders of a peluan,*** when he could lift a coin from the ground in full gallop or to hit a hen's egg on a high pole, when he could say a magnificent toast and sing a song, when he had no equal in dancing Udj or Kafa**** Hagoor said:
  -- You will be a warrior.
  -- Am I not now?
   __________________
   * Oshkhamaho - Elbrus. Literal translation - The Mount of Happiness
   ** sano - a drink of gods, nectar, a Nart (Circassian epic) name for wine
   *** narts - legendary people, who lived in the Caucasus. Heroes of the Circassian epic
   ***peluan - a Circassian pronunciation of Persian pehlevan - a very strong man
   **** Kafa, Udzh - Circassian dances
   Atalyk broke into a kind smile:
   - You are, my boy. Sure, you are. But sometime you will become an experienced djigit, may be a leader, and you will lead your troops to storm the cities. Remember, that it is easier to conquer a fortress, then to humble your spirit. This is the human weakness. And nobody knows, how to overcome that weakness. I would teach you, but I did not master it myself.
  -- Then how must I act?
  -- You have to learn it yourself and command your spirit. There is no other way.
   The time came, when Dabech was taught the art of raid leadership. Hagoor took Dabech with him, but at his side there were always three warriors, who were responsible for alumnus' safety.
   Bech learned to calculate his forces. He did not suffer from the cold or hunger. He momentarily could find the best solution for any difficult situation.
  -- This is the only way - repeated Hagoor, - or else you will perish. If you are not sure of your decisions - you lose.
   They were sitting, cleaning their pistols and rifles after shooting competitions.
   - Never humiliate yourself and never allow the others to humiliate you - said atalyk suddenly.
  -- What are you talking about?
  -- Just a stray thought. I shared it with you.
  -- What if my granddad or my father will offend me, when I return to Kabarda?
  -- They won't humiliate you. They will teach you what I missed.
  -- But cannot it happen, that my ancestors would be wrong?
  -- How would you know they are wrong?
  -- I will feel it. You taught me.
  -- Then you will have to pretend, that you obey.
  -- You taught me to be truthful.
  -- But this is the truth. Let the Almighty Tkha help you, so that you will have to concede in any argument only to your granddad and your father.
  -- Still the truth must be only one.
  -- Are you sure?
  -- Yes!
  -- Well, it means, that I have not spend years of my time in vain. Act as your heart tells you to act. It will not deceive you. But always remember, that our elders are the history of our nation. You cannot shoot history, you cannot abuse it, you must not retell it anew every time. It must be loved, honored, preserved.
  -- Like the ancestors?
  -- Yes, like the ancestors. But the service to your Motherland come first, that the service to your father.
   Sons of Hagoor were Bech guardians from his first days in the aul.
   The older ones - Aznaoor and Tembot - became an example for him. He wore his hat as they did, he sat and stood as they did, he mounted a horse as they did... He imitated them in everything. Even in the intonations of his speech. And he never parted with the junior, Sahatbi.
   Important thing is not whom you were born from, but whom you are mingling with. When Bech got six more brothers from his real parents - Malichipkh and Pago - he never pronounced that figure.
   - I have nine brothers - said he, counting three sons of Hagoor together with his native brothers. That was true. And, may be, the Adygheyans were somewhat closer.
  
   And Arykshoo had only one son, as the single -mast boat. After his last meeting with Ustia in the Cossack village, joy left him forever. He was sick with sorrow. If there was a flicker of hope in his soul, that his beloved Cossack beauty will come to his house as his wife, it was extinguished. There was precipice ahead, which even his rakish horse was unable to jump over.
   The time, which was set with the oldsters of the Cossack village to take Wazermes from his mother to the aul, has come.
   - It will be painful for her. But this is the pain, which she will overcome. No stepfather can replace a real father to the son.
   - One father is more, than one hundred teachers - wise Jamada consented with him. - In the father's sternness there is more sweet, than bitter. No warrior, no smith, no plowman and no singer without good father.
   Malichipkh whispered to Arykshoo secretly:
   - It's easy to become a father. It's difficult to be a good father.
   By that time in the Cossack village Ustia was thinking " May be the abrek busy with his raids will forget to take my son to his aul ".
   Hope is a great property. One can dispose of it in his own manner. But it also owns us. On the eve of the day Wazermeska was to be taken to Amysh's aul, Ustia was tortured in her dream by giant toads. They were jumping all around, on her breast, and on her stomach. It was vile. She was glad to wake up from the nightmare. But the inner voice has warned her: " Too early to rejoice".
   A group of horsemen and a line of wagons, heading for the village were led by the uzden's senior, Shawey. They brought generous gifts to all the oldsters of the village and to Ustia's relatives. They were driving livestock and ten fine Kabardin thoroughbreds. Rain did not stop all the previous day, but a quiet sun appeared in the evening and began to dry the soil up. The group was descending to the plains, and the rivulets of rain water were running down alongside, as a band of village boys from the hill - noisy, friendly, "who will get there first!". Old Shawey understood the importance and delicacy of his mission.
   "Mother's heart is an inexhaustible spring - he thought - This spring will not freeze in the frost and will not get shallow in the heat. Everything good in the world comes from mother's kindness and endearment".
   And the old warrior remembered his mother. Her kind hands, her songs, her chooreks mashed in fresh milk. The Cossacks met the Amysh delegation about seven rifle shots away from their village. Wazermeska was among then. Well dressed and on a good Kabardin horse.
  -- Arrived?
  -- Arrived! At a set time.
  -- Well, that's good, - frowned Luka Ilyich, a desperate swordsman in his younger days. He was awarded four Combat Crosses in this war. One Cross was pinned on his breast by general Ermolov himself.
   They were slowly riding side -by -side through the village now.
   - Look, women are curious to have a look at you - Eroshka, riding on the other side of Luka Ilyich, barred his teeth.
   True, girls and women were standing behind the wattle fences and on the porches, looking at unusual cortege. They were not cracking sunflower seeds or tell tales, as was customary. This was a rare occasion. First time in their village, probably.
   All presents were presented, and horses with other livestock were distributed. Easy. Now meeting with Ustia was the main thing.
   "The happiness which is kneaded with somebody's tears is of black color, - Shawey thought - The hands on the destiny's clock are turned by the soul. Fast, or slow? Depends on the soul".
   Ustia came out onto the porch.
   - Well, said Luka Ilyich - they arrived, see.
   The eyes of people around resemble thunderclouds - some with thunder, some with rain.
   - Ilyich - said the Cossack matron, drying her tears with the corner of her kerchief, - isn't it better to give new wings away to abrek, leaving the old ones to yourself? Let him leave Wazermeska to me. I will bear him a new son and will give him away, without a single glance.
   - Two sons are like two eyes. The other one, which is not born yet, will be as dear to you as this one. You won't part with him on your own good will. And why are you sure you will bear a son? May be it will happen to be a girlie?
   Sadness squeezed Ustia's heart by cold hand. Anguish was like a vise.
   - Come! - she called her son - Make yourself believe that I died long ago. It will be easier that way.
   - But I will come to see you, mamuka* - speaking low to keep his tears, whispered the boy. - Arykshoo sent a message, permitting this and asked to tell you that.
   - Forgive us! - old Shawey bowed his head in front of the mother. - Forgive us! The children are like apples on a branch. We, the parents, are the trees, the apple trees. We have to part with them.
   - I tried to substitute a father to my son. Father whom he had, but of whom he was deprived, - spoke Ustia, holding her tears.
   - Yes, - Shawey consented, - the mother, who may substitute the father, if he is absent, is the best of mothers. But this boy has his father. He sent us to you. Do not heed that the river is shallow to day. Tomorrow its riverbed will be full with water.
   Have you seen the sun drowning in the sea, bidding it good -buy for the night? That beauty is nothing compared with the way the great luminary hides beyond a great mountain: it is already beyond, but the fire of the dusk will illuminate the sky for a long time after, wrestling with murk and descending darkness. That was the time of the day, when Shawey's team returned home, bringing with them to aul a very dear man - Wazermes, son of Arykshoo, grandson of Amysh.
   The dusk over Ekaterinograd Cossack village was dark crimson that evening.
   During one of the winters of Bech's stay in Adygheya, something happened in the Amysh's aul. One winter morning Adiyuh, daughter of Pago and Malichipkh gave birth to a girl. The starry Milky Way by which invisible shepherds drive their herds to water broke by that time and only Sirius was still burning weakly in the sky. All previous day the land was being laid white with the soft fluffs. And the girl was named Dahawos - the beautiful snow, the snowflake.
   Malichipkh defined by stars the birthday of her granddaughter. She counted twenty five days from the winter solstice, and said:
  -- The girl was born in the winter shileh**- the coldest time of the year.
   _________________
   * Mamuka - mommy in Cossack dialect of Russian
   ** shileh - the coldest and the hottest time of year
   Putting Dahawos into the woven basket, she put it near hot fireplace, studying with rapt attention every nail, every hair, every mole on the body of the granddaughter.
   - Ah! - she exclaimed - our granddaughter appeared in this world with her eyes opened!
   That was true. Dahawos, really, was looking at her upturned down world with wide opened eyes.
   - Poor girl, - Akoonda, Adiyuh's mother-in -law, was fussing at a tiny piece of flesh with a dark complexion, lying in the basket. - Your life will not be easy: you will be able to see other people thoughts, as others see their reflection in still water, your stare will pierce the mountains as the Damask steel pierces the heart of the enemy.
   At this moment the cock waked the morning with his loud crow. Well, if he did not, that wouldn't stop the morning: Sirius melted in the sky, as a snowflake on an open palm.
   - I will have a look on the dawn - said Akunda and sailed out of the saklia, as only Kabardin women may sail in the Kafa dance at the Vagobah celebrations, dedicated to Taurus constellation.
   Adiyuh, unbuttoning her jacket, bought for her by Malichipkh at Nasp fair from a Kedis merchant, put out her full breasts of a sixteen -year old mother, most natural milk vessels in the world. A stream of life burst from the rosy nipples, which fed gods and humans. The smell of oriental plane tree, burning in the fireplace, mixed with intoxicating odor of mother's milk.
   - My beautiful - Adiyuh said, and the sun filled the room.
   There were many children in the Amysh family. They were born, then brought up by grannies and nannies, then the boys were given away to atalyks. Varied rituals were accompanying them from the day of their birth to their wedding. But nobody in the old prince's family got as much attention as Dahawos. Most probably, because the child was unusual. She never cried even once, and was showing a real character even unconsciously. Malichipkh filled the tiny mattress
   with the softest millet shuck. The air got through easily, and it was comfortably soft, shaping up as the girl's body made it.
   Malichipkh tied a kauri shell to the cradle, brought on her request from Crimea. Numerous neighbor women, coming to see Dahawos, compared her with the sun or the moon. Malichipkh every time was imitating spitting:
   - Phooey, disgusting girl, freaky! ( to avoid whammy eye).
   Adiyuh fed the girl with her breast until five years old. They early stood her on a stone to make her legs strong. She was walking earlier, than the other children in the family. To commemorate her first steps Adiyuh with her unauts prepared lots of halvah from honey, melted butter and flour. The first word, which the girl pronounced, was "fire", and the first thing, which she took into tiny hands, was the dagger. Once a snake got into her cradle. Malichipkh saw, as the girl squeezed the body of the creeping creature just where the head ended and choked it. The granny threw the snake out and never mentioned it. The girl liked to listen to songs and began to sing early. She had very blue eyes.
   When she was not bigger then the tulip flower, glowing on the alpine meadow, Dahawos inveigled her mother to set her bed on the veranda.
  -- I want to count the stars in the sky, said the girl.
  -- But that is impossible! - Adiyuh
   But the girl began to count the twinkling stars, first with her fingers. I seemed easy in the beginning, but then she understood, that they are too numerous, filling every little corner of the sky. They were everywhere, even here, in the house. And Dahawos closed her eyes, defending herself from the vast sky.
   Later, when sixteen winters will melt away in her destiny, when she will swallow sixteen gulps from sixteen spring pitchers, and sixteen hot Julys will make her breasts hard and quivering in the premonition of something mysterious, the stars of love will fall on her maiden bed without asking her permission. But it will be later, significantly later. Now she closed her eyes.
  
   Five years after her birth, when the green gardens began to listen to the noise of the mountain rivers, a long line of carts, escorted by a noisy and rakish Adyghe cavalcade, brought Dabech home to Pago. The festive fires died slowly in the native aul of Hagoor alumnus; the horses, hot from festive racing, just caught their breath; the tears of joy were still fresh on Malichipkh cheeks; atalyk with his sons did not reach his native bounds on his way back, full of remembrances of the hospitality of Bech's parents and their generous gifts, loaded heavily on the caravan mules, when the news came: the Russian Czar sends a general for negotiations with Kabardins.
  -- "Good news or bad news is this, I wonder?" - Amysh thought.
   All around the old prince the questions were heard:
  -- Who will be the choice of the ambassador to talk with?
  -- What you mean by "who"? - Amysh was infuriated. - Of course with Kuchuk!
   Or the horse of our hopes will be lame.
   - But many nobles are against Kuchuk, - said the princes of neighboring gorges, meeting in Amysh aul.
   The old prince spoke:
   - When the leader is single - he is useful. If the leaders are aplenty - they harm. What the defeated may hope for? To depend on the mercy of the victor, or to bribe him with gold, to commit treachery and betray comrades to buy freedom for themselves? No! The way to salvation is only one - to leave any hope for salvation and fight. And for this we need a wise leader. Glory to Almighty, we have one. His name is Kuchuk Jankhotov.
   The horses were whisking the chariot of days, but the ambassador was not arriving.
   Then the time slowed, and began to putter about, like the aul shogen with his beard, but the general was not here.
   People began to forget the important news, when the messenger came to aul from Nartsano to invite Amysh for a talk with general Vasily Alexandrovich Otto. The birds of hesitation flew to the old prince. He could not sleep. The insomnia took his hand and led him to the open veranda. The cloud passed over, and the starry sky opened above. These stars got bright and then dimmed in turn. As if somebody was watching this sequence, as if it was very important to someone. The cold light of the faraway stars was trembling, like the flame of the church candles.
   - I will not refuse the messenger, but neither will I consent, - Amysh decided.
   In the morning the old prince, appealing to count on his old age and ailments, tormenting him, asked general Otto to excuse him for being not able to visit Nartsano. Then Vasily Alexandrovich, more a man of letters who dedicated many of his works to the Caucasian War, than a military, expressed his desire to visit aul in person.
   "Respecting your age and your merits before the Kabardin nation, allow me to attest my respect to you personally", - wrote he in his message.
   Amysh understood, that he will not be able to avoid this meeting and sent an escort of one hundred Kabardins on horseback under the leadership of Pago to meet his guest.
   Amysh met Vasily Alexandrovich Otto at a distance of ten rifle shots from his aul. It was a magnificent summer morning. Opal clouds were swimming in disorder over the mountains, in compliance with the laws, known to them only. The camellias performed the wind dance in the meadow. The sun generously poured its rays on the earth. The old prince wore a white Circassian frock, tall fur hat, with the family cross on his chest neighboring with two highest Orders of Persia and Turkey. Their meeting was solemn and cordial.
  -- We are all warmed by one and the same sun, - the guest greeted Amysh with words, dictated to him by the landscape, the grandeur of mountains, and gentle sun, which filled the gorge with the warmth and light.
  -- Glory to the Almighty, we are not dividing the sun by pieces. Big piece - to the powerful, small piece - to the weak. Thank God.
  -- Our sovereign and we, his subjects, have heard much about your intelligence and valor.
  -- Let the years of our sovereign and his good subjects be prolonged!
   The sensitive ear of Vasily Alexandrovich noted the combination of words "our sovereign".
   "It's a good sign" - he thought. - Not "yours", but "ours".
   A great celebration was held in honor of general Otto in the aul: big caldrons with lamb, goat and venison meat were boiling in front of the church and at other tree squares; in the house of Amysh a foal was sacrificed, lakooms, dalens and khalivas* were boiling in oil, pastah was prepared to be served with meat. The cooks were mostly men, but aul women prepared lakooms and khalivas.
   Djigits were competing in marksmanship, firing rifles and pistols and shooting at targets with arrows.
  -- It is nor easy to beat such warriors, - noted Vasily Alexandrovich.
  -- This must please you, - answered the prince - because we are the warriors of the Russian Czar.
   General Otto did not answer. But when the guest expressed his astonishment at the dexterity of youngsters, who easily clambered up a greased pole to take from its top a cake of smoked cheese and demonstrated their horsemanship on the outskirts of the village, Amysh continued the theme:
   - We are not the people with whom it is good only to share the pleasure of wedding feast and the fuss of holiday competitions; we are those, whom you may trust in need and be not mistaken in your trust.
   Vasily Alexandrovich had to answer:
   - We are fraternized, and this bond, I suppose, sometimes is something closer than brothers have, because the fraternized man sacrifices his life in a time of hardship for a man, not bound to him with blood bonds, but with the manly word of honor. Amysh silently nodded his consent.
   Dances are one of the main events of every celebration with Adyghes. And today they were astoundingly beautiful. Multi -colored Circassian frocks flashed, the dancer's hands raised to the sky, as if asking the gods for joy and happiness, and
   ____________________________________________________
   * dalens and khalivas - cakes with cheese, potatoes and other filling,; they are cooked in boiling oil
  
   national music sounded, animating everything with its fire. That music was calling,
   laughing, invigorating. The general and the prince were thinking about all this in a different way. Vasily Alexandrovich was charmed, surprised, shocked. Amysh looked at the dancers and sow in his mind bright and expressive pictures: blue mountains, shrouded in clouds; the eagle, touching a small cloud with his wings; the shepherd, holding a lamb in his arms; a horseman, galloping on the verge of the precipice; a mountain girl with black eyes, coming to a date to her djigit. But if it
   were possible to sum the thoughts of the prince and the general, they would sound like something close to: "No, that is not simply dancers dancing Udzh, they are artists, painting with unmistakable brushes a bright and unique picture of Kabardin life".
   When a ring was formed to dance Kafa, young beauties came out of it. Two of them were holding the third one by the elbows. The girls approached the guest, and the one in the center bowed to Vasily Alexandrovich.
  -- You are invited for a dance, general, - said Amysh.
   Vasily Alexandrovich was confused, got red in the face, and stepped from one leg to the other, unsure what to do. But his adjutant lieutenant Platov bowed to his senior and whispered in his ear.
   - It is not customary to reject such invitation. It may be considered a great offence, Your Excellency.
   - Then why don't you go and dance yourself, - growled Otto, accepting the invitation. But his Kafa dance was excellent. His dance got the cheers of the spectators and he bowed repeatedly to the people. After the feast, which was too ample and therefore tiring, the general was ready for talks, but Amysh stopped him by a resolute gesture:
   - General, both of us are not young any more, and my years are especially tiresome. Have a little patience for the old man. Let us postpone our talks till morning.
   The morning dressed the East in purple. The orient grew gay, illuminating narrow aul streets and squares, already shining clean, as if there was not a merry feast yesterday. The silence and peace reigned.
   The breakfast, served in koonak room, consisted of hot lakooms, smoked cheese and Kalmyk tea. When unauts took away the three -legged tables, there was a pause. The prince was silent. The general kept silence, too.
  -- Why don't you ask me about the aim of my visit? - began Otto at last.
  -- You are the guest. Our tradition forbids putting questions to the visitor. You will tell me if you think it proper.
  -- My mission is not official, and that is why I arrived to you, not to Kuchuk.
  -- I will report your words to Vali - Principal prince of Kabarda.
   There was a second pause. Either Otto had nothing to say, or he was keeping most important and significant part of his mission for a further discussion.
   - Why we, living side by side for a long time, - began the general at last, - and used to each other in our hearts, are speaking different languages today: neither Russian, nor Kabardin, but the language of hostility and misunderstanding?.
   Amysh was preparing for a long and tiring discussion, which, he presumed, would begin with pleasantries and good wishes. Vasily Alexandrovich chose another tactics.
  -- Friendship is fed by the unity of thoughts, - said Amysh after a pause.
  -- Yes, sure! - General was pleased - A great Greek from Thrace was of the same opinion. He said, that the "uniformity of thought makes friends".
  -- Is Thrace a great country? - asked the prince. - Is it bigger than Russia?
  -- Oh, Thrace can't be even compared to Russia either in size or in power!
  -- Then why you do not have your own "great Russian" who is able to disclose to the Czar the secrets of friendship?
   General Otto, a fine man of letters and the author of many books, became confused by the simple wisdom of Amysh.
  -- I will never compare myself with Diogenes, but the sovereign chose me to send to Kabarda.
  -- What can you say to make the cannons silent, to turn the fortresses into blooming cities connected with trade caravan trails, to make Russian guys marry our beauties and your northern girls become mothers of Kabardin djigits? Have you got such words?
  -- Sovereign does not want to terminate our friendship.
   Amysh was silent for a long time. The pause was protracted, making the silence oppressive. The prince saw burnt auls; Russian forts on Kabardin soil, whelping with cannons; expeditions of generals for their awards, for which they paid with the thousands of their compatriot's lives; the exploits of general Zass, who sent to Berlin the scalps and heads of killed Circassians for "scientific" experiments. Many and many such visions passed through the mind of Amysh before he uttered:
   - If the friendship may terminate, as you said, general, it means, that it never began.
  -- I want to thank you, prince Amysh, for friendship, for benevolence to Russians.
  -- No need to thank for friendship.
  -- What for, then?
  -- For any service. When you go to Nartsano, I will present you with a mare, white as a cloud. Then you will tell me the words of gratitude, if you will wish so.
   The discussion with the general resembled the movement of a cart off road.
   - It's impossible to win the war we are waging now. We cannot win since you are a vast country with a great army. You will no win, because it is impossible for anyone to enslave for a long time even a small nation. Once - yes. Forever - no.
  -- So what must we do to silence the guns?
  -- Abstain from shooting. Our nation is tired of combats. We are always fighting. Our mothers and wives cannot cry, when the next casualty, their son or husband is brought on a boorka into their homes. They have no more tears. Soon we will have no people to till the land, to herd the livestock, to breed the famous Kabardin thoroughbreds. Our hope was for you, the Russians, but we were mistaken.
   - What was your mistake, prince?
   - You want to enslave us and at the same time you want us to respect you. Remember, general, that I may be a slave of my consciousness only. So my sons may be. And grandsons. Our nobles. Our peasants. This entire nation. You forgot, general, that we all have only one motherland - Russia.
   - Then why do the bitterest enemies of our State award you with these Orders? For fighting on their side against us?
   - No, general. For not fighting against them.
   The girls brought in small tables with fruits, wild berries and drinks.
  -- Keblaghe! - You are welcome! - Amysh made an inviting gesture.
  -- There is always a small community of people, surrounding any sovereign, who are interested in war. They have no shame. They are ready to spill the seas of blood for their profits. Russia is not different.
   The war, which for many of those living in Moscow, Petersburg or some Kaluga city meant no more then a theoretic armed struggle of two states, two nations, a simple combination of sounds, letters, something very distant and not very comprehensible, here was gaining a special force, absorbing the bitterness, and pain, and blood. Here this word was turning into tragic reality. Vasily Alexandrovich felt the emptiness and the futility of war long time ago. Previously it was a greater part of his life. Now it turned into nebulous fog, may be emptiness. This severe combat life affected him, but his dislike for war rooted somewhere else. In these very emptiness and futility. And also in the feeling of solitude, which squeezed his throat for long hours on end by a cold hand. After the next raid, blood, loss of a comrade he became callous, hearing the moans of the wounded without sympathy and the silence of the dead without empathy.
   - Beware, - he said then to himself - your heart becomes harder than a stone.
   " What the prince was saying?" - he returned to their discourse in his thoughts. - Oh, yes, - that Russia is not different. Not different... Of course. Certainly".
   General Otto controlled himself.
   - What about Kabarda? - asked the general. - Is Kabarda an exclusion from this rule?
   - No! The difference is only that you are attacking, and we are defending.
   - The peace must be restored on your land by Kabardins themselves - said Vasily Alexandrovich. - Then you will preserve your culture, traditions, customs, save your families, your lives...
   - We would be glad to lead peaceful life, but we must know for certain, that we will get help and protection from our sovereign - Russian Czar.
   - Protection from whom?
   - From his officialdom and corrupt generals, koonak Vasily.
   - But Russia itself is not protected from them.
   - Then what you propose? I said that we have common Motherland. If you cut away one of her fingers, the pain will be inflicted to all Russia.
   - We must find the side guilty in this quarrel.
   - Guilty is the side, which is clever.
   Otto laughed:
   - Now we will try to prove to each other, that his is the side more stupid.
   A smile touched severe face of the highlander.
   - You said, general, that the sovereign wants! That he desires! But desire alone is not enough. Something must be done to achieve the aim.
   - I will tell about it in Petersburg.
   In the evening Amysh went out on the open veranda of his saklia. The dusk did not want to die. And looking at the flaming horizon, the prince thought: "Who soiled the sky with blood?".
   Next morning Vasily Alexandrovich noticed Wazermeska.
  -- Hey, boy, - call prince Arykshoo to see me!
   And thinking that the boy did not get him, he tried to help himself, gesticulating:
   - Arykshoo, Arykshoo!
   - One moment, Your Excellency! - answered the boy.
   - Stop, will you! Whose son are you? How come you speak Russian so fluently?
   - I am the son of Arykshoo and a Cossack Ustia.
   - Oh, is that so? - the general was surprised. - Well, God bless you! Call your father!.
   The lad ran to fulfill his mission, and Vasily Alexandrovich was lost in thought: "What if I take this boy with me to Petersburg? Educate him, make a learned and mundane man of him, useful to his own people and to the cause of strengthening ties of friendship between Kabarda and Russia?" - His thoughts ran ahead of him. - And may be it will happen that the boy will see and learn more than his father and grandfather did.
   He was still lost in his thoughts, when Arykshoo arrived upon the guest's call. He did not ask as would be customary in any other nation: did you call me? What for? The prince simply stood before his guest, waiting.
   - Arykshoo, my koonak, I called for you to discuss some other business, very insignificant. But now a very important thought entered my mind.
   Arykshoo was silent.
   - This is my idea. You, the Adyghe, have a tradition to give your sons for education and training to atalyks. It is a good, clever tradition.
   - But you, the Russians issue decrees against this. You forbid us to send away our children for upbringing.
   - Everyone can make mistakes. I think this one crept in, to our regret.
   - Then help to correct it.
   - That's what I am trying to do now. I want to become an atalyk for your son Wazermes.
   The prince went pale. "Have I taken my son from Ustia to give him to Russians now?"
   - Learning is a mail shirt against any hardships. I will ensure your son will get great knowledge. He will study in the best schools of the world. He will become a wise man, or, if he desires - a brilliant officer, may be a general.
   - What is in it for you?
   - I do not know the answer to your question yet...
   - But the unknown is not your property, - said the prince.
   - ...But I know for certain, that the knowledge is the greatest valuable thing in this world.
   - I may agree with that - uttered the prince.
   - It is necessary to learn, to study the unknown.
   - That is also true.
   - Only knowledge makes the man great and free.
   - The freedom must be conquered, - argued the prince.
   - Weapons are not supreme in the life of mankind.
   - No, general! As long as people live they will forge swords.
   - To defend freedom?
   - This, also, - answered the prince, - but also to enslave other people, to conquer kingdoms, to get more rich. We, Adyghes were not the ones to invent it. We say: "Beware not of the arms, beware of the man who holds them".
   - But we, the Russians, did not invent wars, too.
   - Yes, not you, true. That was always so. That always will be so. And about Wazermes... I have only one son. Pago has seven. Why not take one of them to Petersburg?
   - I think that the God prompted me with the name of Wazermes. Yesterday evening, turning in, I did not think about it. But the morning came and put the idea into my mind.
   - I am grateful to you, koonak Vasily. But Wazermes is a grandson of Amysh. It will be his decision.
   The general knew the customs of the highlanders. Arykshoo was right.
   - Good. - he said - Let Amysh take a decision. The only one thing I ensure to you and swear - that I will make a great man from that boy.
   - Do not swear. All is in hands of Almighty. Only he knows our destiny. He moves our stars.
   - And he also says: "The more you know, the more you can".
   - Yes, a man has to know much to be sure of his stature, to be useful to people. The war will come to an end... Learned people will be in great demand, those who know the remedy for wounds, inflicted by this war. Not only saber and bullet wounds, but the wounds of soul. Of course, I would like to see my son among those great healers.
   Amysh liked the general's proposal.
   - But give us some time to prepare our boy to that great future.
   - How much time?
   - One spring and one summer - was the answer.
   The general nodded his consent. The prince and the general parted friends, exchanging gifts and embracing each other in a strong manly embrace.
   - Shall we see each other once more, I wonder?
   - But of course, prince!
   - Once born, you have to die. I am old. The heavens are waiting.
   - Only God knows our fate.
   - That is for the best.
   Departing, Otto, war historian and writer, told to the prince:
   - The heavy dance of the combat horses must become a part of the past, or else all this is becoming absurd.
   - This is not absurd, general. It is war! - Amysh answered.
   After some time the old prince wrote in his letter to Vali Kuchuk: " General Otto impressed me as a decent man, willing the same as we do - peace and friendship. I think, that he does not know the way to silence the cannons. Do we? The time and patience are needed for this. Let us ask Tkha for this! Let us pray, that our children would study in the northern capital, and our djigits would serve loyally to the Russian Czar".
   The general departed, inspiring hope and leaving good remembrance. The life in aul continued, flowing like a river - sometimes quiet, sometimes in torrents.
   All the masculine population of the aul in between the raids was busy with tilling land, growing gardens, herding flocks. There were also some very talented handicraftsmen.
   Yapanas and his sons were famous for their whips. People from neighboring villages were coming for them, and when the Jew merchants happened to visit aul, they bought these whips to trade them in Transkuban lands, for Osetins or Cossacks. They said, that they were in demand even in the Russian capital and Istanbul bazaar.
   Yapanas once said to his countrymen:
  -- Every man must do something all his life to achieve craftsmanship.
   He taught his sons:
   - Ask the dawn: "What shall I do today?"; ask the dusk: " What is left not done?". He was most strict to himself:
  -- The great mission demands great efforts.
   He labored. He selected new goat or deer hides. Sometimes the sheepskin, too, was used, but that was not the same. Another sort. Cheaper goods. The he made narrow belts from those hides. Oh, that was a real wizardry! The belts were soaked in water, cut to exact size, then removed the upper layer to make the skin thinner and therefore easier to deal with. Then the belts were folded and turned on the wooden stick tightly - inner layer, upper layer...
   The aul dwellers came to Yapanas to learn the trade.
  -- May we have a look?
  -- Why not? Look! But do not disturb our work.
   The looked. Tried to repeat what they have seen at their homes, but nothing good came out of it. Yapanas with sons prepared leather belts for a couple of dozens of whips and hanged them in the sun, to make their core hard and springy. Then they prepared for every whip another belt and cut it into thin leather laces, eight in number. Then they plaited them. Half of the lace was plated from left to right, half - vice versa. Very important was the leather tongue of the whip - it made the bite of the whip softer for the horse, and prevented the whip from fast wear and tear. The handle was made of a hard mountain wood, mostly hawthorn, wrapped in morocco leather, with horn or bone butts. Sometimes the butt was decorated with gold thread. Once Pago came to the Yapanas' shop.
  -- Want to select a good whip.
  -- They are all good, - was the craftsman's answer - but there is no one to fit you. Come after two days.
   After two days he handed prince a whip, with which Tokhtamysh whip could not compare. With this he presented the prince a powder -pouch covered with the black leather and the funnel to pour the powder on the rifle powder shelf. The guest admired his work, accepted the present, but paid the craftsman generously.
   - Send your sons to Khamysh. That was one of Pago's herdsmen. - And tell them to select a pair of good oxen. They will be of use in your household.
   The price was too high, and Yapanas tried to object.
  -- I made these things for you not to be paid. And not because you are a nobility. I was inspired by your feats.
  -- What Yapanas' hands are doing is also a feat. The difference is that we, the warriors, perform them on the battlefield. And you - in your everyday labor. Consider my present to you an acclamation of your feat.
  -- As you like, ziuskhan, - answered the master - As you like.
   Life was flowing, like a river, falling, like waterfall, floated, like a bird in the sky. Every night the dawn awakened the aul, promising joy and expectations. And, of course, the warriors were departing to bring back riches and glory.
   The night on the eve of the next raid, Arykshoo saw his sister -in law in his dream.
   - Do not go raiding this time, - said she.
   In the morning Arykshoo went to the female half of Pago's house.
   - Couldn't you tell me about your premonition in the morning? Why disturb my sleep?
   Malichipkh looked long on the warrior. So long, that her stare became clouded. Arykshoo waited. At last, his sister -in -law uttered words, which did not please him:
   - The skies tell me, that it's better to cancel this raid.
   - What will happen, if we disregard the voice of the Skies?
   - Nothing good.
   Brother-in-law was in the doors, leaving the room, when Malichipkh stopped him: - When you will be leaving the village, your horse will trip. When you will reach the apple garden - the ravens will crow loudly and fly over you. And when you will be fording the river, one of your horses will drown.
   Arykshoo went out in silence. He did not tell the other members of the raid about Malichipkh's advise, for he was afraid of their gibing. But the horse did trip, and ravens crowded and circled over their heads high in the sky, and the spare horse of Albech, one of his horsemen, drowned in Terek. Koop was to hijack Cossack herds, which were, informer said, guarded by a convoy of six Cossack veterans, quite old people, and therefore, not dangerous. Leaving three abreks with the horses, Arykshoo, led seven of his comrades by stealth to Cossack's camp. One of them was busy, cooking a fish soup for all convoy. Abreks were very near, when one of the Cossack horses, with his front legs hobbled, felt trouble. He neighed, stomped his hooves.
   - What is it, Chigor? - cried his master sternly.
   But the horse continued to make fuss, stood on the hind legs, and neighed.
   " We trained that horse too thoroughly for our own good, - thought Arykshoo, - recognizing a Kabardin horse. The horse's master was seriously alarmed.
  -- Wolves! - shouted he to his countrymen and ran under the awning of tree
   branches for his rifle.
   Sasyk, the abrek on the prince's right hand, fired his rifle wounding the Cossack. But the old soldier managed to fire back, killing one Kabardin. Then he got hold of his pistols and shot another two of the attackers. Arykshoo ran to him and cut him with his shashka, but the koop was doomed. The Cossack villagers were firing at abreks running, and some of the bullets found their victims.
  -- Fall back! - ordered Arykshoo, - retrieve our killed and wounded! I will cover
   the retreat.
   He was left there alone against five experienced Cossacks. His comrades were already in the middle of Terek, and he was still firing, recharging his rifle with the hazir charges. The Cossacks were encircling him as they did on a wolf hunt.
  -- Well, this must be my death - said he to himself.
   At that time Malichipkh, nebulous and transparent, descended to him and took his hand.
  -- Come with me.
   And led him away. The prince couldn't remember, how he forded Terek, or how he caught up with the koop. The results of the raid were terrible. Three killed and two wounded, including him.
   Albech was hit in the neck, and he was dying on the hands of Arykshoo. They were sitting under the giant oak. Blue skies, white mountains far away, bright green of the grass and vivid colors of the field flowers - all this was immensely beautiful. A slight breeze stirred the oak leaves. The eagle was floating high above.
  -- Look! - Albech was showing the bird to Arykshoo - it floats, then it stops, then it waves its wings again. As our life.
  -- Yes, Albech. As the life.
  -- Sing me a song - asked the dying warrior.
   Arykshoo put his tall fur hat low on his brows and began to sing, not heeding the tears that run down his weather -beaten cheeks. The rifle shots were heard from the other side of Terek.
   The koop was impatient. No time for singing! But the prince told them:
   - Go away by that ravine. We will catch up with Albech.
   -"The garden will dry up, the fortress walls will fall, even the mountains will become lower, but the song will not die, because the man on the Earth will be alive" - sang Arykshoo.
  -- Then I also will not perish from the face of the land - Albech did not say it but only whispered. Life was leaving him.
   Arykshoo wrapped the body of his dead friend into his boorka, put it on his saddle crosswise, fastening the body with the row hide belts, and hurried to catch up with his koop. Malichipkh appeared again.
   ""Do not go by the ravine. There is an ambush waiting there. Turn to the left path. It is steeper, but will save your life".
   This time he obeyed feminine advise.
   Nearly unconscious, he did not remember, how he caught up with the koop. But when the danger passed, comrades treated his wounds. They were bad. But the ability of Kabardins to use those means, which are at hand in, the raid and their self -control in desperate situations helped his loyal horse to return his master home alive. He was delirious. He threw himself about the bed, leading pursuit a wrong way to save his koop; he called Ustia, murmuring endearments; then was silent, unconscious, nearly dead. The local quack, a man of experience and responsibility, understood, that he will not manage to save the wounded himself, and asked to call his colleagues from the neighboring villages. It was done. They all tried their witchcraft for a long time, arguing and finding a right way. On the seventh day the heat abated. The guest quacks went home loaded with expensive gifts, and the local one said:
   - Now we will continue to treat him in our traditional way - by sittings!
   It meant, that the wounded slept all day, he was fed with the chicken broth, his wounds were freshly bandaged with grass balms. In the evening tens of different people were gathering at his bed. They were telling stories, singing, joking. There were old men and people of Arykshoo's age, but mainly young people. Soon his bed and these assemblies were moved to the house garden. Now they even danced in front of his bed. The aul girls brought different sweets and dishes, prepared by them, willing to impress everybody, but especially the young djigits with their culinary skills. In all other actions, be it jesting, humor or any other of their amusements, this spirit of competition was lively.
   But their favorite game was "palms". The man approached to a girl and asked her to stretch out her hand. The girl can't refuse. And the man, if he was quick enough, struck her palms with his fingers. Then the girl had to go to the other man and repeat the game. Arykshoo also took part in such games, which usually took a long time. How many interesting games were invented on the spot, how many verses and songs were composed!
   Whether the medicinal art of the quack, or natural health of the wounded, or these noisy assemblies played main role in the healing - God knows. But Arykshoo began to convalesce. When he danced Udj for the first time, the quack announced:
  -- The ailing got well! I thank the Almighty and all of you, who helped to treat him so devotedly!
   Arykshoo was bored by sitting in his saklia, and went out to roam about aul. The fruits were ripening in the gardens. The meadows were fragrant with the varicolored grass, as if sprinkled by Damascus perfumes. The warrior walked slowly along the narrow streets, feeling, that the pain of his wounds is subsiding, quieting.
   Old Babuh, recognizing the prince, invited him in:
  -- Let your steps on this land after your illness be happy. Though there is no man in my saklia, my old age permits me to invite you. Enter my house!
   Arykshoo was glad to see the old woman.
  -- Be healthy! Be happy, Babuh! You nursed me, carried me in your arms,
   singing songs, which were as old, as these mountains. I remember your words: "The best of all invented by mankind, were bread and songs".
   - You were a good boy, son.
   - Well, shall I entry, or not?
   She got fussy:
   - How come? What you mean by asking?
   The warrior sat at a three -legged table in a small room. He knew, that her husband and her brothers and sons were killed in battles, that she is living alone, that the aul and the prince's family took care about Baba (it was her loving nickname). There were hot coals in the fireplace. The old woman threw several dry sticks of brushwood on them and the fire kindled, then roared. With the agility and knack, which were not characteristic to her age, Baba made dough of rough wheat flour and made several halivas - cakes with fresh cheese, onions and spices. Frying them in oil, which boiled in the lagoop, she put them on the table - light brown and delicious. Kalmyk tea with halivas was to the prince's taste.
   - Thanks, dear, - said the guest, leaving Babuh's house. - I will send you a sheep. Or a cow if you prefer...
   - What will I do with the cow? Or with a sheep? Better promise to make me happy with your visit once more.
   Knowing about the pain, that was tearing his soul, about Ustia, she said:
   - Even a very clever woman may commit stupidity.
   The prince understood her hint.
   - What about a stupid woman?
   - She is bound to.
   When he went behind her wattle fence surrounding the household premises, the old woman wished:
   - If you win a victory over the enemies of your motherland in the daytime - let the sun illuminate your victory. If you will force your enemy to run in the nighttime - let the stars make your trail bright.
   Arykshoo continued his way, feeling some sensitive lump, unusual for him, choke him. Babuh, and that smith on the aul outskirts, and these small boys, looking at him with curiosity from under small fur hats - all of them were his people, his nation.
   He wanted to take a turn aside from the church, which was straight ahead, but his eyes met with the shogen's stare. The priest was sitting on a plane tree bench, warming in the sun.
   - Warrior, do not pass by! - shogen gestured his hand invitingly.
   He approached.
   - A good day!
   - Many good days to you, warrior!
   They discussed the weather, harvest expectations, the youth, neglecting the advises of the elders, the necessity to clean the old aul aqueduct, which begins at the waterfall, and the news of approaching merchant caravan. Then shogen began to philosophize - he liked to share his thoughts with people:
   - Look - he said - some mountains are higher, the others - lower. It means, that there is a necessity in differentiation.
   - You want to say, that some people also are small? Like sand particles, like dust?
   - Yes, like dust!
   - What prevents them to become if not great, at least big enough?
   - All is in the hands of God. We should pray more to Mariam and Aus Gerg.
   - And this will make a hero of the coward, a generous man from a skinflint, and a loving man from a boor?
   - Yes, it will be so.
   - No, I do not believe in it, shogen. One must worship Aus Gerg in his heart. A man becomes more pure with this. But will more virtue come from prayers, I wonder?
   - Sure will, - insisted shogen - Sure!
   Then Arykshoo added: - you are speaking about spiritual, shogen. But would you or the Islamic ushers be satisfied, if your parish paid to the priests and imams only spiritual gratification?
   Shogen was silent.
   - People bring to imam and to shogen lambs and flour, warriors give them a part of their trophy. I do not see anything wrong with that. Bur this pay is not a pay for a spiritual guidance.
   - What for, then?
   - For work. Every job must be gratified. Either smith's, or shepherd's or miller's. Every labor must be paid for. But the spiritual you must render to people without any payment
   The prince took a golden coin from the leather purse, hanging from his belt.
   - Is this for spiritual or for labor? -shogen asked.
   - This is my donation to your temple. People without belief in God are lame both legs, but the religion without our knowledge and experience, accumulated with years, means...
   Shogen stopped the warrior:
  -- Religion is sent to us by heavens and collected by people by scruples.
   Arykshoo wanted to consent with the shogen, but his mind was resisting.
   - Why then people reneged so easily, leaving their creed in Aus Gerg in the neighboring villages, in neighboring gorges, and on the Terek plains? Why our compatriots everywhere adopted Islam? Why only we in Amysh aul here keep to our old creed?
   But shogen was not embarrassed by this question. He thought this problem over long ago, and there were many answers to that problem in his mind - right and not
   so right.
   - Warrior, we are not alone. We are aplenty. The Abkhasians and Osetins, living nearby, pray to Aus Gerg.
   - But in the neighboring aul, just at the entrance to our gorge, they have built the mosque and destroyed the temple.
   - Nothing bad in building a mosque. But they shouldn't destroy the temple. The God is one - for Chelistans* or Moslems - one! Their prophets are different, though.
   - No, said Arykshoo, - even now, in the same neighboring village, some people pray to Allah and to Miriam and Aus Gerg - our saints.
   - What is so bad about it?
   Arykshoo shrugged his shoulders.
   Shogen knew, that the Genoa merchants and Russia lost to Porta in a very big game. And the guilty sides were lazy local priests and missionaries, the defeat of Genoa merchants on the Black Sea coast, and the indifference of Russia to all these events. Petersburg was paying a heavy blood price for this indifference. The power
   ___________________
   * Chelistans - Christians
  
   of the newcomers, the sheiks, appeared to be stronger than the influence of many Genoa priests in Kabarda and Circassia.
   When the people of the sheik came to Amysh with the proposal to replace the
   Bible by Koran, the prince accepted his guests very hospitably, he feasted three days with them, showered them with gifts, but rejected the proposal.
   - When my days will come to an end, and my soul will go to Heaven, come again. May be my descendants will accept your creed. But I am too old to change my God.
   Later Shapsughs and Kabardins, who professed the religion of Mohammed, asked to permit them to settle together with the Christians. The reasons for that were aplenty. Amysh did not reject their request. As usual, all aul helped the newcomers to build their saklias, helped with household utensils. When the number of Moslem families exceeded ten in number, the Christians helped them to build a mosque. Chelistans and Moslems were living in friendship, sowing bread
   and mowing hay, breeding horses and livestock, going together to the raids. And, of course, defended their Motherland side by side. Arykshoo knew, that his Moslem countrymen have preserved their Christian roots. If their carts with hay or any other goods were left without guard on their way somewhere, they put wooden crosses high on them, being sure that they will be safe. And they worshipped the Mother of God - Mariam. They honored Aus Gerg, sometimes calling him Isa. When Easter came, the local Moslems boiled eggs and presented gifts to their friends. The Moslems, living in Amysh aul, nearby or far away, never made any difference between themselves and Christians, invited them to feasts and funeral repasts, called for their help in marches and raids, and never rejected their requests.
   At the entrance to the gorge, in the upper part of which the Amysh aul stood, sometimes enveloped in clouds, sometimes fondled by the rays of the sun, the river was slowing its current. Still continuing to roar, turning stones, it was not as terrible now. And further on the plains, it quieted completely, seemingly tranquil, waiting for a traveler, who would try to cross the streams without finding a ford.
   One day and one night of riding following the river in these plains on a good horse could take you to the gates of a Russian fortress, where one of Amysh's koonaks served - staff captain Maximov.
   The fortress was situated in the most beautiful corner of Kabarda.
   Nestling in the horseshoe of green, then rocky and, further away, snow -covered mountains, it was looking on all four sides with cannon forts, ready to repel attacks of daredevil Kabardins, who one moment were loyal to the Russian Czar, but the other, taking offence on some "insignificant" unfairness of the great neighbor, raided Cossack villages nearby, and even attacked the fortress garrison. The fortress never sustained heavy losses, but was always on the guard. It was not big. Wooden and stonewalls, earthen bank. Lower, on the riverbank, the forward fort. Twenty -two cannons were defending the fortification. The fortress was soldiered by linear Cossacks, Russian regular soldiers and Kabardin volunteers. Behind the fortress walls the mountain Jews - Tats - settled in a small colony. Their occupation was leather manufacture, and the sharp odor of raw hides was omnipresent. But their sheepskin and leather was good. They produced high boots, soft morocco shoes, fur waistcoats, which were favored by officers' families and soldiers, and later became fashionable with the civilian population living inside the fortress. Besides, they traded quite boisterously with all thinkable and unthinkable goods - from wine and vodka to fabrics of different quality, lengths or colors. Sometimes they brought to the fortress gates cases of famous French "Clicquott" Champaign, to the delight of past mundane gentlemen, serving as officers in Caucasus for their faults or misbehavior.
   The fortress commandant lived in the two -story house with four columns. The horse carriage shed and the stables were in the backyard, with the soldier's barracks nearby, ready to be raised by alarm at any moment.
   The life inside the fortress was not gay, if not dull, compared to neighboring Pyatigorsk, Kislovodsk or Stavropol. Officers were playing a hard game of cards, loosing in one night not only their annual pay, but their horse, an expensive shashka and even putting their land manors in Russia at stake.
   There were Decembrists - mutineers on the Senate Square, with their statute quite uncertain. They were not soldiers, but they did not enjoy officer's privileges, either.
   Fortress commandant Nazarov Yefim Yevdokimovich, Volga riverside esquire, won his position and rank by his zeal and valor. He participated in expeditions to Chechnya and Daghestan; he fought the Shapsughs, was wounded twice - by sword and by bullet. But he was not spiteful and did not cherish his commandant position, considering it a burden.
   He never encouraged the physical punishment of soldiers, made the quartermasters feed them properly, and once, catching a thieving quartermaster officer, ordered to whip him and sent him to a court of justice. He was indifferent to the exiled Decembrists, but avoided the prescribed strictness. He disliked the flashy lady's men, who came to Caucasus to win their awards and high ranks, though did not make any seeming differentiation between them and the combat officers at those famous dinners, which his stout spouse Anastasia Pavlovna was giving. The soldiers called her matushka (mother dear), while the Kabardins in the garrison pronounced this word matushka. Out of all his surrounding he was not indifferent only to staff -captain Maximov. He valued Asiatic character of this very Russian personality. Maximov long ago forgot his dreams of the numerous awards, convalesced from the fits of reckless courage and from love of a dozen of Cossack girls. Andrey Andreyevich (that was his name) understood, that Circassians are good warriors, knights, as described in those English novels he was reading in the Cadet's Corps. May be quicker and smarter. The first thing, which astonished him in the highlanders' customs, was the tradition to retrieve all their killed and wounded from the battlefield. At any cost. Later he understood the naive simplicity of the Circassian's soul, their loyalty in friendship. He cried, when he saw with his own eyes that after the son of the prince Kuchuk was executed, the father took the body of his dead son and left the fortress quietly. The prince did so to prevent an attack of several thousand Kabardins, gathered at the walls of the fortress. The prince did so, because, by his code of honor, his son Jambulat* has violated the oath of loyalty he swore to the Russian Czar. In the evening Maximov sent his valet Egorka to an Armenian merchant for vodka. He got drunk and wanted to "get done" with the general Velyaminov, who ordered the execution. But Egorka with his comrades has bound Andreyevich to his bed and watched him in turns until morning. When the morning came, Maximov continued to drink, but not as heavily as on the eve. When at last he came to his senses, he gave a silver ruble to buy Cossack homemade wine to soldiers, who saved him from court -martial, and rode to Kuchuk. Alone.
   He spent three days at the prince's house, and, returning, continued his service. Nazarov knew what happened. He scolded Maximov, but made no official reprimands. He sent Maximov with a mission to a far -away aul to prince Pago, where Christianity was still a main religion, though all neighboring settlements turned Moslem. Maximov was glad to go. He was koonak of Pago and of his father Amysh, ailing now. He rejected proposed convoy, taking with him only one man - his valet Egorka.
   _ - What good is the convoy? - asked he, reasoning with Nazarov. - You can't give me a battalion of soldiers with cannons. A convoy of ten -fifteen light cavalrymen will be done in by Kabardins in a wink of time. No, it is safer for me to travel with Egorka. I am their koonak, anyway.
   Andrey Andreyevich spoke fluent Kabardin, knew highlanders' customs and life style. His equestrian posture was real Kabardin, his horse -a shagdi, his dagger - bazalay, his rifle - in a felt cover. A real Circassian!
   ___________________
   * Jambulat - the junior of the three sons of Kuchuk Jankhotov, the last Vali of Kabarda. The elder two were killed in battles with Russians. Jambulat was among the favorites of general Ermolov. Brave, handsome, proud, he was the best of all the Kabardin warriors. He was a member of lieutenant general Ermolov's embassy to Persia, where his records proved to be favorable. In spite of all that, Jambulat transgressed the limits. In 1825 he was one of the leaders of the Kabardin mutiny against Russians in the Caucasian Line. For this general Velyaminov brought him with his father to Nalchik. Here he declined to talk with Russians, got into skirmish with the convoy and was executed in the presence of his father and the great Russian writer and diplomat A.S. Griboyedov. Jambulat is a controversial, but, without any doubt, a heroic figure. His name was glorified in many ballads and legends.
  
  
   He ordered Egorka to take with him only bread zwiebacks and a teapot, which accompanied him in all expeditions.
   No cries of the sentry Cossacks were heard, peaceful auls were far behind. The road, sometimes a path, was winding higher and higher into the mountains, secretive, severe, resplendent. Maximov was long past that feeling of expecting an enemy rifle shot from an ambush. He knew that they do not fire a gun in the gorge just for fun. There must be a reason for it. A serious reason. A strong necessity. He even napped in the saddle sometimes. Egorka was silent, looking over the sides cautiously. At the waterfall, resembling girl's unplaited hair, they met a group of abreks.
   - A good day!
   - Let Tkha send you many good days, too!
   They were standing in front of each other. The highlander's tradition forbids them to ask the aim of the traveler. Andrey Andreyevich was prolonging a pause to demonstrate importance of his mission.
   - I am going to prince Pago on a special mission. We are koonaks with him. I have heard that Amysh is ailing.
   One of the abreks, a red haired man on a red horse bent to his chieftain.
   - I know him. He is captain Maximov, the officer from the fortress. We could demand a good ransom for him.
   But the chieftain brushed him away: - He was the one who came to prince Kuchuk when Jambulat was killed. And Pago spoke of him favorably.
   Turning to Andrey Andreyevich, he said:
   - Captain Maxim, the road ahead is rather dangerous. Let one of my people see you to the point of your destination.
   - No need to, - answered Maximov. You did not do any harm to me. With the Gods help, the others also will be kind to me.
   - We have different Gods.
   - God is one for all. The prophets are different.
   - Then do us a pleasure and share our meal with us.
   - I am honored by your invitation.
   Soon the campfire played with hot flames by the waterfall. The abreks put on a towel their unpretentious food: dried venison, smoked cheese, corn cakes. Sticking venison on thin shaved twigs, they made it hot in a minute. Egorka made tea.
   - Do not spare the tealeaves. Make it strong! - Andrey Andreyevich said. He collected some aromatic grass and put it into the teapot. Lunch was superb. They were eating leisurely, sitting on boorkas, when the abrek chieftain inquired the captain:
   - Tell me, captain Maxim, what good is in this war for all of you? You will not win it, for sure. You will burn some auls, kill the men, but our women will bear more warriors. Why this war? Has not your white Czar have enough lands, or sun is not enough, or water is scarce? What he wants?
   - Power.
   - Has he not enough?
   - He wants more power. This is the reason of this war. There are mutinies for the lack of bread. The wars are waged for power.
   - He will not gain power in our lands.
   - Live and see, abrek. Every day brings something new.
   - Let there be many people, friendly to you. To you, to your soldier, to other soldiers.
   When they were parting, the chieftain took a red bashlyk from his saddlebag and handed it to Maximov.
   - If anyone will bother you on your way, show him this.
   Their journey along mountain paths and trails was long. Climbing up and running down, their road went by riverside. Above that road the rocks hung, as if sculptured to make way. But they were natural. The river rampaged, moaned, furiously spattering at Maximov's and Egorka's horses. Even clever shagdi of Maximov was discontented by this, leave alone Egorka's gelding. It was jumping to the rock side of the road, snorting, getting stubborn; but he still followed Maximov's karagoz. Suddenly the road opened on the Waterfall Valley. Maximov stopped his horse in speechless delight. The wall of the falling water was in full view. Any man, who was not prepared for this spectacular and solemn picture, cannot overcome his emotions - from admiration to fright. From vertical rocks about hundred and fifty feet high, the streams of numerous crystal clear mountain springs were falling down, ringing and sparkling. They met with the roaring mountain river to be carried down to the valleys. The rainbows were hanging over waterfall. That was a fairy -tale landscape.
   Maximov remembered, that the local highlanders compare these streams with the strands of hair of a young girl, falling on her shoulders. Some of them call this waterfall "water from the muzzle" or "water throat". Andrey Alexandrovich remembered the legend he was told by Arykshoo, Pago's brother, that these streams are the tears of a girl, mourning her murdered lover.
   Then the captain said to the prince:
  -- I don't want to believe that legend. Such beauty cannot originate in grief.
   Now, listening to the multiple sounds of the falling streams, he compared some with the sounds of a flute, the others - with the herdsman's shoehorn, a drum, a high note of a trumpet.
   "A rhapsody" - he thought.
   Without noticing it he gave reins, and his horse took him slowly over a worn out bridge from the Waterfall Valley. The captain was riding in silence, contemplating severe, primordial nature. The wet rocks were nearly joining overhead, resembling a tunnel. The small pine and birch trees on the slopes were straining to get more sun, struggling for life.
   "Beautiful, unique severity", - captain thought.
   They had to put for the night in a shepherd's grotto. Egorka again made tea. The zwiebacks came handy. With the first signs of dawn, when the gray morning began to toss on the treetops of a neighboring forest, they were getting ready to go. When the dawn was in high bloom and the first ray of the sun fondled the earth, Maximov and Egorka already covered two miles of the mountain path. Shaking behind his master, Egorka did not pay any attention that the morning fog streamed up. But Andrey Andreyevich noticed all fine stages of the Caucasian dawn: the sun opened its golden eyes, the morning blue touched the sky, the bees hurried to collect honey. Captain saw, that the neighboring mountains are covered by pine trees, which there, a little higher, turns into mixed forest , and higher still - into rare birch orchard. He saw the peaks, covered by a carpet of alpine meadows. What flowers can't you find here! White anemones, yellow amaryllis, gentians, blue cornflowers...
   Thick bundles of rhododendron on the rocks. The air was full of the tender fragrance of the multitude of flowers. " Whom we are fighting with?" - Maximov asked himself. He knew the people of the gorge, who shared their woe, bread and song. Together they tilled the stony land, made terrazzo gardens, bred livestock and thoroughbreds. Masons, smiths, carpet weavers, shepherds, ashugs,* composing legends about this gorge for the descendants to remember.
   He remembered the words of the song he heard in the mountains. "We slept little and we worked much. We also suffered much because the horses of invaders stomped our fields, the enemies cut our gardens, sold our daughters into slavery, burnt our homes, extinguished fire in our hearths. And then we took arms. We took our daggers out to defend our land".
   Maximov had with him a letter, addressed to Pago. In that letter the commander of the Caucasian Line of fortresses expressed his displeasure, that the Amysh aul gave refuge to the group of Shapsughs, who attacked a border post on the Black Sea coast. They killed seven privates, wounded two warrant officers and hid in Kabarda. The scouts were sure that their trails lead to this gorge, most probably, to Pago's aul. There were no certain indications of that, but it was possible. The Line commander warned, that if this will be proved true, and the fugitives will not be surrendered to the authorities, the aul will be destroyed, and its population will be resettled in Transkuban area.
   ______________________
   * ashug - a minstrel
  -- You must put some fear into them, Andrey Andreyevich! - instructed him colonel Nazarov prior to his departure to Pago.
   Maximov promised to do his best. But in his mind he knew that it is impossible to frighten Pago with his sons and his brother Arykshoo. "They are capable of frightening anyone themselves!" - thought he. He did not want to discuss any sensitive matters with old Amysh, either.
   The hare crossed their road.
   - Bloody creature! - Egorka murmured to himself - A bad sign!
   Andrey Andreyevich dismissed his premonitions:
   - This time all will be well. I have seen a good dream.
   - Well, then. Glory to God our Lord! - Egorka calmed down.
   They passed a rock, resembling a vulture. The stone eagle was sitting on a giant boulder.
   - How nature created such a marvel, I wonder? - Egorka was delighted.
   Maximov remembered his last talk with Pago.
   "You call a snow covered summit a flower. Why?
   "Because this summit will suddenly inflame, becoming a rosy flower, enveloped in white blankets of fog. Got me, koonak Maxim?"
   Thinking so, he reached the next turn of the river, and captain felt a smell of the fireplace smoke.
   - Here we are, at last!
   Soon they heard the barking of dogs. And half a mile later two horsemen, Pago's sons - Dabech and Badyn, met them.
   - A good day to you, koonak Maxim, said Dabech touching his heart with the fist of the right hand.
   - Many good days to your aul, to your prince ant to your people.
  -- I do not ask you how did you get here, because our people followed you from the fortress walls.
   _______________________________
   * Caucasian Line - a line of border fortresses Russia built to defend newly conquered territories
  
   Maximov felt their presence by his skin and nerves.
   - I knew that. I have seen the traces. And at the waterfall I have seen the white bashlyk hiding behind a cliff. Then at the vulture stone I saw a saddled horse tied to a tree. Hidden, but not very thoroughly for me to see
   - You are a good warrior, koonak Maxim. Arykshoo will include you into his koop.
   - I am too old for the raids, Pago's son.
   Captain knew, that either Arykshoo or someone of Pago's sons should meet him. Since he knew the prince's brother, these two could be Pago's sons only.
   - I would not hesitate to raid Persia or the Crimea with such a chief! - Dabech was not concealing his surprise at being recognized.
   - It's a long way. Better lead me to your father, since I am here already.
   They were passing through aul slowly, with proper dignity. Rare passers -by stopped to greet the guests and young princes, bowing and saying few words. Maximov saw by his hindsight, that girls and matrons from behind every wattle fence are watching them. Sometimes a group of children would run into the street to gape at the guests. At one such group captain ordered to stop and said to Egorka:
   - Give the tiny tots some sweet zwiebacks. I think they never tasted them.
   Egorka dismounted, untied the saddlebag, and began to distribute the sweetbreads. But the children declined, until Dabech permitted them to take the sweets.
   Pago was waiting for Maximov. He was dressed in his everyday gray beshmet* with bashlyk tied on his waist . Sticking from under this bandage Maximov saw, to his surprise, nor a handle of a dagger, but a Turkish scimitar.
   While women were bringing the pitchers with water and copper basins for ablution, Pago went out of the koonak parlor to give necessary instructions. When he returned, the three -legged small tables were brought in.. The prince did not sit beside the captain until he was asked to do so. Maximov, receiving a cup of hot Kalmyk tea, was drinking it thirstily, though his favorite drink burned his palate.
   They were talking with great care, making pauses. The prince did not ask his guest about the aim of this visit, and the guest was not in a hurry to disclose it.
   - I heard that you have been to Kuchuk when his son Jambulat was buried?
   - I was, - inadvertently answered Maximov.
   - I did not go. Getting old. Arykshoo with my sons went there. Arykshoo recognized you there.
   - I also recognized him. But did not approach in that entire mob. It was a wrong time to greet each other.
   Pago nodded his understanding. Maximov noticed, that prince became thinner, taught and more taciturn since their last meeting.
   Continuing to talk about Kuchuk, Pago said:
   - One has to have the ability to forgive in order to preserve his dignity.
   - It is not simply a matter of forgiveness - objected the guest.
   - I did not say that it was simply forgiveness. The main thing is the honor.
   According to the code of honor, Jambulat was guilty.
   - There is not a man without some guilt in this world - growled Andrey Andreyevich. But their fame will outlive Kuchuk and Jambulat.
   - Fame is like smoke. What is proclaimed a heroic feat today, may become a common thing tomorrow.
   Maximov had his own opinion on the Kuchuk's affair, and he could not and would not yield.
   - You are trying to fit the lives of many people into your own laws, - said he.
   Pago was silent.
   - Prince, are you counting my thoughts, which I expressed here?
   - No, koonak Maxim, I am weighing them.
   The boiled lamb meat was brought in with pastah and garlic sauce with yogurt.
   The prince took a piece of fat sheep's tail, and cut several loafs from it. Then he made similar loafs of boiled liver, put them together, and handed one to Maximov.
   ______________________________
   * beshmet - a daily frock of Circassians
  
   - Amysh, my father, says that this food is the best of all, the Adyghes have.
   Captain accepted the proffered food into his joint palms, as the Kabardin etiquette demanded. he tasted the dish and clacked his tongue.
   - Your father, let his years be prolonged, is right. I have tasted nothing better.
   - Let us dispel the sorrow from our minds, - said the prince. -It kills the strong and the weak, the clever and the silly, the handsome and the ugly. It is full of harm and devoid of use.
   Hot shoorpa* was served in the wooden cups.
   - Drink this, - said the host. -It will make you fit after a tedious road. The bouillon of lamb meat is the best medicine.
   Maximov was drinking a splendid broth, scolding hot to his tongue and lips. But Pago, taking a phial of garlic sauce, poured half of it into his cup, cooling it and simultaneously making it savorier.
   - Try this way!
   Maximov followed his host recommendations and was satisfied. They spoke of many things, but still did not touch the subject of the visit.
   - Why don't you marry, koonak Maxim?
   - But I am married, there, in Russia.
   - We will marry you here also. We'll select a young bride in our aul, make a proper wedding feast. The young wife will make your life in the fortress more pleasurable.
   - Ah, the women! - answered captain - Their harts are traps, their hands are fetters. Isn't it so?
   Pago smirked: - The ways of the man to the woman's heart are inconceivable. What water is able to put away the fire of love? I am getting old, but I remember, that neither waterfall, river, nor even the waters of tenghiz* are able to extinguish that fire. That is why it is said in the Bible: "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife"...
   ________________________
   *shoorpa -bouillon of meat
  
   - Such woman is still to be born, for which a highlander will abandon his parents.
   - That is not the meaning, prince. Nobody says, that you have to abandon you parents. But remember, that in marriage a man and a woman create a new flesh.
   - Thou did not get me, either. The children must obey their parents, care about their old age. This is the law of our mountains.
   - It is a law of all decent people on the Earth. The difference is, that you follow that law unequivocally, while many of the others do not.
   They were ready to turn in, when Maximov handed the letter of his senior to the prince:
   - Make me a favor, read this. Your son Dabech knows Russian, but I do not want the contents of this letter to become known to anyone but you.
   Pago kept silence long after reading the letter.
   - What will you say, prince?
   - What can I say? We received the Shapsughs, as we would receive any other fugitives, asking a refuge in our aul.
   - Russians, too?
   - But of course! Our rules of hospitality have no differentiation by nationality. All are equal in this respect.
  -- I believe you.
  -- What will you say to the commandant?
  -- What can I say? There were no Shapsughs here, and you did not hide them.
  -- But they were.
   - I always listened to you, prince. Now you listen to me. There were no Shapsugh fugitives here.
   - The truth is the only one.
   - Well, this time I spoke the truth for you.
   Maximov went out of saklia. The night polished the stars, choking in the embrace of silence. The moon fed the mountains, the orchard, the neighboring _________________
   *tenghiz -a sea. In Turk languages - deniz.
   forest, waterfall and sleeping aul by her virgin breast. Everything was emitting peace and quiet. May be he felt so because of the result of his talk with the prince.
   In the morning Andrey Andreyevich wanted to visit old Amysh, but prince sent his apologies, saying that he does not want to appear before his guest ailing and feeble. Hearing this, staff captain ordered to take from his saddlebag a large flat bottle of Kagor monastery wine, which he brought to the ailing friend as a gift.
   - The monks insist, that this wine is a medicine for all ailments.
   - What about old age? - Pago's voice was sad. But he thanked for the present and said that the bottle will be brought to Amysh immediately.
   The day Maximov returned to the fortress, prince Vladimir Alexeyevich Oblensky, stripped of his courtier rank of cavalerguard, but not of his colonel's rank and all his awards, arrived in the carriage, followed by heavily laden train of carts.
   He was exiled by the emperor for dueling the son of the German ambassador to Russia. A somewhat scatterbrained, but very pretty singer from Vienna, who arrived to Petersburg with concerts, was the cause of the quarrel. They said, that the ambassador's sonny missed, and prince Vladimir deliberately diverted his shot. But nevertheless, the affair was not hushed, and the prince was ordered to go to Caucasus. Rumors stated, that the emperor, signing the decree, said:
   - If he is such a connoisseur of shooting, let him compete there with Circassians. They are sharpshooters. And he will not have to divert his shots intentionally.
   Andrey Andreyevich met with the exiled courtier on the run. He even had no possibility to be present at a formal dinner, given by the prince. They said that the reception would be absolutely unusual for the fortress - with waltzing on the parquet floor of the Officers' club and lots of exquisite food. He was indifferent to waltzes, true, but had nothing against some of delicacies from Petersburg. Let alone the personality of the prince himself, for which Maximov felt genuine interest. It was not amazing. This personality was outstanding and somewhat mysterious for N fortress, forgotten by people and the Lord. But a messenger of grief informed Andrey Andreyevich, just arrived from the Amysh aul,, that the soul of the old prince Amysh, koonak of Maximov left our mortal world and is on its way to Heavenly kingdom. Such news in the mountains is of a special preference. It is not like an invitation to a wedding feast or birth of a son. There is no time for hesitation. You have to saddle your horse. Staff captain reported the news to the fortress commander and said, that it is imperative for him to depart immediately to present his condolences to the highlanders. Yefim Yevdokimovich growled discontentedly, explaining, that only general Ubetsok in written form may permit this trip, and that this is impossible, since the time of Amysh's funerals will pass - only three days left. There was time barely enough to reach there using a spare horse. How are you going to receive that personal written permission from Kislovodsk? Maximov insisted. But the commandant was reluctant to take that responsibility.
   - What if you, Andrey Andreyevich will be taken hostage by highlanders and put into lock and chains?
   - They won't kidnap me and will not put me under lock and chains. I am their koonak. That is counted higher, than brotherhood.
   When he saw that Nazarov continued to hesitate, the captain threatened to go even if he would have to retire.
   - Well, well, cool down, Andrey Andreyevich! Go to the infirmary and say, that you are sick. Let them make an entry about that in their records. And go with God! Express my condolences to princes Pago and Arykshoo for the demise of the old prince. He was a real friend of the Russians. Though nobody can say for sure, who is a friend and who is a foe in this war. Nevertheless, tell them that I pray for the sole of Amysh to rest in peace.
   Maximov left the fortress at once, alone. He did not even take Egorka with him.
   Angels of sorrow lowered their hands over Amysh aul. One day prior to his demise, the old prince felt better. The anguish, which settled in his eyes long time ago, seemed to retreat. He even joked. He drank a gulp of Maximov's Kagor from a flat wine bottle, ate several spoons of hot chicken broth from a wooden cup. Then he summoned his sons, Pago and Arykshoo. They appeared immediately.
   - Sit me under those rifles and daggers, hung on that argen*, - he ordered.
   Settled at that place, Amysh said:
   - Now listen and memorize. After my death...mind you, that the death is a very responsible business and is a part of all our life, which our God gave us to spend on this Earth and therefore it, must be performed with dignity. So, when I die, Pago will be senior in our family. If something happens to him, then Arykshoo will replace him. If Tkha will call him also, then Dabech will be the head of the family. I adjure to you, my sons, to all our family and to our aul to live in peace and friendship with the Russians. But this friendship must be the friendship of equals - like two edges of a dagger, like two wings of an eagle, like two eyes on a face. This is the main of what I wanted to tell you. Swear to me to fulfill my will.
   Pago pressed his right fist to his heart:
   - I swear, father!
   Arykshoo repeated the words and the gesture of his elder brother. There was a long pause, filled with the ringing silence. But that silence was like a pitcher, full of music. When the cap of the pitcher was opened, the music flew freely, filling the saklia.
   - There were many sorrows in my life. More then the rainy days in inclement autumn. Pray for me. Then may be Tkha will forgive me my sins, - said the old prince. - Remember yourself and pass to your children these simple maxims, which may come useful in life:
   "Never speak of your valor. The people will see it and will narrate to the others.
   Be able to keep the carpet of your patience in the chest of expectation.
   It is difficult to deter from the evil word. Be able to hold your tongue.
   Reject nothing, but forget nothing.
   The blind, the deaf and the mute can see, speak and hear if united.
   The best of the horses may be knocked down, if horseman is a coward".
   I did not say anything new to you. You knew these true words before. I just
   _______________
   * argen -a reed mat
   reminded them to you, parting".
   The sons of the old prince were standing with their heads low. Not one word of the old man missed their hearts. Eyes of Amysh were sad again. May be he was tired, or felt the approaching death. Leaving much of what he wanted, he passed to the main.
   "Only the hand of your friend will defend you from the dagger - he was speaking in a weak, low voice. - But this is not the main thing in life. What, then - you will ask me - is most important in life? Loyalty. Let the head of the traitor of his Motherland ever be covered with the snow, not with flowers from the spring trees, let him always hear the wailer's moans and never - the laughter of a child".
   There was another pause. The silence was tearing at Pago and Arykshoo's hearts.
   As if feeling this, Amysh said:
   - Do you think that it is easy to tear the coverlet of dream from the soul? Do you think, that the God sends it to each and every? Do not mistake. Not to everybody and not always. Do not think that the revenge means only a good shot, a dagger strike or a poisoned arrow. Kindness to your enemy, wisdom, directed to your adversary is also revenge. General Zass, whom we call by nickname Shaitan* orders to cut off the heads of Circassians and sends them to a faraway country, he orders to burn our auls, to rape our daughters, to sell our children to slavery.
   - I will kill him, I swear to you, father! -Arykshoo exploded.
   - No, my son! I would be too weak a revenge. Zass has a beautiful daughter - the only creature on the Earth, which he loves more, than himself...
   Pago and Arykshoo's eyes lighted with the desire for revenge.
   -... you must kidnap that girl, bring her up in the best of Kabardin traditions, surround her with brotherly love, kindness and care. When she will understand us and love our land, return her to her father. Promise to do so!
   - I swear, father, - Pago said.
   - I will do that, - Arykshoo whispered. But there was so much steel in that whisper, that it was clear - he will fulfill his promise.
   In the evening Amysh wanted to enjoy the dusk. Fiery crimson disk was still throwing its flaming rays on the world. The Sun, gay and vigorous, was hiding behind the far mountain to rest there until tomorrow's dawn.
   "How will it sleep, still so hot? - Amysh thought."
   But his misgivings were in vain. Soon the dusk burned out. Mixing with the darkness, the light faded. The evening came. And when the great Tkha has lighted millions candles in the sky, Amysh was no more. The circle was completed.
   The morning, which was born, was cool. The cool breeze was sliding from the mountains, not cold, but invigorating. The sun constantly fettered with the sailing clouds, sometimes white, sometimes golden, and sometimes gray. Such was the morning when the Amysh aul began to mourn as the Habze** traditions prescribed.
   A man has no choice between the life and the death. The nature makes the decision for all of us. Everyone knows, that the death is inevitable. But nobody knows whether it is behind a close mountain or the faraway one. Amysh was repeating often in his old age:
   - To fear the death or not - is everyone's choice. But that it will come one day - is inevitable.
   His attitude to this doom was tranquility of a wise and courageous man.
   Jamada, the oldest man in the aul, stepping over the kobje* of the Amysh household , said to the sons of the old prince:
   - The wise people do not die, because they leave their wisdom to the people. Your father was such a man.
   Kabardin rules of the mourning ritual are not written rules - but the order of the rite is set. Every member of the family, of the clan, of the aul knows what must be
  
   *shaitan - the Devil
   ** Habze - the Circassian (Kabardin, Adyghe) etiquette
   *** kobje -here: threshold
   done in these minutes. And now the messengers were sent to close and distant auls, to the princes on the Kabardin plains, to the Cossack koonaks, to the influential persons of the neighboring gorges.
   Pago ordered:
   - We will bury our father in accordance with the old tradition. Chelistans and Moslems will follow their rites.
   All men - relatives of the deceased, took off their belts with the daggers as a sign of mourning. The fire was extinguished in their saklias. All food for the Amysh family was brought by their neighbors. The wailers came, crying loudly for the dead. There were among them real masters and beginners, who were mastering this sad occupation. The horsemen, dismounting far from the gates of the old prince's house, approached by foot. And though Amysh died of his old age in his house, they formed a circle in his yard, took their shashkas from the scabbards and stuck them into the soil, respecting his former combat merits. Such was the military salutation of those glorious days.
   The deceased was lying on a boorka in the center of the yard. The women arrived by carts, and entered the house from the side opposite to the one the men used. Quite naturally three groups formed - the ones who followed the ancient traditions, the Christians and Moslems. These groups were friendly, but each kept to its own rites. Andrey Andreyevich Maximov, of course, joined Christians.
   "The life is but a moment - captain thought. - But is longer, than the death, much longer".
   General Otto arrived, without convoy, accompanied by his adjutant and his valet only. He was glad to meet Maximov:
   - At least I will not be the only Christian mourner!
   - Oh, no, Your Excellency, there are many Christians here!
   The officers stood together, recollecting the wisdom and courage of Amysh.
   General Otto found words fitting for this occasion:
   I live in thousands of souls in human hearts,
   The loving ones and therefore -I am not dust
   And will be spared the decay of mortals.
   Staff captain liked the lines, read by the general, but he did not know the author and was too modest to inquire. But the general volunteered the information:
   - These verses belong to great Italian thinker Mickelangelo.
   The captain nodded "So Angelo be it, Angelo.
   Maximov's koonaks informed him about the new arrivals:
   - Those are from Terek, that group are the Balkars from Bulungu, those are
   Cossacks, and these are Abaza...
   Men from Osetia came into the yard sobbing loudly. Everything was going on as a hundred years, may be a couple of centuries ago. Men were preparing a funeral log. The big tree trunk was split into two parts, then both were hollowed to fit the body. Then the sides were fastened by dowels. The log with the body was carried to the outskirts of the aul to the burial mound, where the grave was prepared. All dwellers of the aul and the arrived mourners slowly went in a procession. The old people, leaning on their crosiers, and young maidens, and djigits, bored by the obligatory slowness of the procedure. General Otto and stuff captain Maximov were with the procession. During the burial, Vasily Alexandrovich, speaking either to Maximov, or to himself, cited the thought of other great Italian:
   "As a day, which did not pass in vain procures quiet sleep, the useful life provides a quiet death".
   - How true, Your Excellency! - consented Maximov.
   From the funeral mound they walked briskly, some youngsters ran.
   After the funerals one of Amysh's uzdens led a beautifully groomed favorite horse of the old prince by the bridle to the tomb and called Amysh three times:
   -"Amysh! The guests have gathered. They wait for you and do not begin their meal. Come! Or shall they begin without you?"
   There was no answer, sure. Uzden returned with the horse to the homestead. Then the funeral repast began. Andrey Andreyevich and Vasily Alexandrovich returned from the funerals with a Kabardin thoroughbred each - Pago's present to commemorate his father. When they were parting, Maximov asked the general:
   - What will happen to the aul now, I wonder?
   - Nothing exceptional, - reasoned the general. The gardens will blossom in spring, the sheep will bear lambs, the shoals will play on the alpine plateau. What can happen? The smithy will stand with the mill, the women will weave carpets, and djigits after nine days of mourning will prepare for a next raid. All will be as usual. But instead of Amysh, Pago will be the ruler. With God's help he will manage the aul as his father did.
   - God bless them! -Maximov nodded. Then, lost in thought, said after some hesitation:
   - I heard, that you are returning to Petersburg, Vasily Alexandrovich? Shall we see each other again, I wonder? Allow me to wish you happiness... And peace. No more wars!
   - God willing, we will meet, Andrey Andreyevich. You spoke of happiness just now. Remember, that the happiness accompanies strong and volitional people, and I earnestly consider you such a person.
   - I am already a dried tree, Your Excellency. Waiting for a woodcutter, but he is somewhat late. The God forgot about me, I think.
   Returning from Amysh aul, Andrey Andreyevich reported to colonel Nazarov as military manuals prescribed.
   - See, Yefim Yevdokimovich, the highlanders did not kidnap and fetter me.
   - Your luck, - commandant waved his hand - but it was possible, by all chances. Good for you, thank God. Return to your service duties.
   Maximov was leaving the room, when Nazarov reminded him:
   - Do not forget to register your release from the infirmary.
   The service routine engulfed the captain. Much work accumulated during his absence. Soon the informer reported probable raid of the Kabardins on the nearby Cossack village. This report seemed to Maximov far -fetched, but he sent the messenger to the village, and sent two companies to march about the area:
   - Will be good to stretch your legs and to break in your boots. You sit in the fortress too much.
   He heard a lot about colonel Oblensky. Prince was too noticeable a figure in a small fortress. The rumors were aplenty. But most of them were in his favor. People praised his education, sociability and decency, which were rare in metropolitan aristocracy. And they were telling tales about the dinner he gave to the fortress officers.
   Andrey Andreyevich was looking for a chance to introduce himself to the colonel, when they met at the shooting range. Prince Vladimir made five shots, hitting five targets. Saying: "That's enough! I mastered this well, and was punished for it!" he turned to leave, and at that moment met face to face with the staff captain.
   They looked at each other for a moment. The officers around grew circumspect. They had a reason. Here was an old soldier, the recognized authority in the fortress garrison, whose influence was in some ways more implicit, than that of the commander, and exiled mundane lion from Petersburg. What will come out of this? Who will be the first to take off his hat?
   The colonel broke the pause:
   - I think you are staff captain Maximov. I have heard much about your courage and valor. Glad to meet you! - and he offered his hand.
   The captain got confused, as a cadet in front of the college commander, embarrassedly wiped his hand on his Circassian frock, though his hands were never moist, and took the proffered hand.
   - Glad to greet you in our fortress, Your Highness.
   Here again the captain got embarrassed, remembering that Oblensky was here not by his own choice, but as a result of the sovereign's anger. The prince either did not notice his embarrassment, or choose not to. Anyway, in a tone kind and pleasant, he invited the captain to visit him:
   - You were absent on my dinner because of your urgent tour of duty. Come and have a cup of tea with me at least.
   - Thank you ever so much. With pleasure.
   - I will be waiting for you this evening.
   Oblensky's hired quarters in the center of the fortress had three rooms. All the three were whitewashed freshly, probably just prior to his moving in. There was a divan in the anteroom, several folding chairs, which could be called armchairs with some strain, a table that could sit ten persons. Plenty of pipes with fancy stems and cartons of tobacco were on a small cabinet. In the next room, which was definitely a study, was a writing table, where an inkpot, several stacks of paper, a prince's seal, sealing wax and candles were placed in immaculate order. The shelves contained book volumes, mostly of English authors. One of the shelves was full of cigar, tea, wine and cognac boxes. Pistols, rifles, shashkas and daggers were hanging on the wall carpet.
   When he managed to collect all these local things, thought Maximov. His eyes noticed new and outlandish things: a leopard skin on the floor, an English saddle, powder pouches, a stick, whips. And through the door to the sleeping room, slightly ajar, his sharp eye noticed a wonderful icon of the Mother of God.
   "Must be a family relic" - thought the captain.
   Osip, the prince's valet, was placing plates with the hors d'oeuvres, sweetbreads, bagels, and bonbons on a tablecloth, white as snow. At last, when a shining and steaming samovar occupied the center of the table, Vladimir Alexeyevich invited Maximov to the table:
   - You are welcome, Andrey Andreyevich!
   Their talk was unhurried, as Russian rivers on the plains. Topics varied. But they spoke mostly about faraway motherland -Russia. They recalled where they lived, who were the neighbors, what cucumbers and mushrooms the peasants of their manors pickled, what kind of jams favored.
   - Andrey Andreyevich, - asked with the child's naivetИ Oblensky - will you tell me, the stupid, what is this monster -Caucasian Line?
   Maximov took this matter seriously - he understood, that the officer, serving in the Caucasus must know the answer.
   - This is a cordon line, you see, - he began - it stretches from the Black Sea to the Caspian. So, if we start from the Pont, it goes first along the right bank of Kuban River, and then along the left banks of Balkh and Terek. This is our side. Comparatively safe. Here we have the guards on the roads, and posts built. But even that road is not safe in the nighttime, for we have no Cossack guards there.
   - But why not? Is it impossible? - Vladimir Alexeyevich was astonished.
   - Because, Your Highness...
   But here Oblensky interrupted him:
   - Come off, Andrey Andreyevich, I am not "Your Highness" to you! Let us not be so formal. We are serving in one fortress, will be under the highlanders' bullets together... - He got red in the face and added: - God willing... But pardon me for interruption of your lesson. He pronounced that word "lesson" with soft respect and repeated his enquiry:
   - Why impossible?
   - Because the pickets on the Line are from two to three miles apart.
   - Day and night?
   - No, daytime only. In the nights the Cossacks retire to the posts, which are five miles apart. These posts are surrounded by trenches, are fenced by wattle, over which thorn bushes are tied, to make them impassable for abreks.
   - Does it help?
   - Sometimes it helps, sometimes does not.
   - How many people are on such a post?
   - Less than fifty. The Cossacks have to go home quite often. It's a necessity. They give one ruble to their horunjy or uriadnik* for the permission to go. And you are never sure how the post is manned.
   - But don't they know that they could be punished for this?
   - Of course! But they know also that it would be difficult to prove. And even proved guilty, the commanders are reluctant to be strict to the Cossacks. They are real good in combat and their officers are heroes.
   - Well, well...Quite a situation!
   All this time the captain and the colonel were drinking tea from big porcelain cups. Tea was done as the host preferred. With cream. And with cakes, bagels and bonbons from Petersburg.
   The host offered to his guest a cognac or some special English vodka he called Scotch, but Andrey Andreyevich declined:
   - I do not indulge in drinking hard drinks without some special reason. Many people became drunkards in such garrisons. If you serve as much as I did, God bless you, you will agree with me.
   Oblensky did not persist, since he had no such habit either.
   - As you like - said he shortly. - But do not decline one more cup of tea.
   - With pleasure. Especially because I heard, that you brought some special tea. The taste is superb.
   - Tell me, Andrey Andreyevich, how the peaceful villages are living here?
   - They just live. As soon as we receive information from the scouts or informers, that the highlanders are preparing to raid a certain village, we send all the Cossacks from the Line home. The villagers are instructed not to leave the premises until the danger abates.
   - But how they till the fields? And shepherd the herds?
   - Nothing to be done! The fields have to wait. And the herds are guarded.
   - God, what a life! Nothing to envy!
   - But they do not complain, though. And do not want to change this life for any other.
   Next morning captain Maximov with Egorka came to the house, where Oblensky had an apartment. But not so early as to interfere with colonel's morning cup of tea. Egorka was holding a bridle of a magnificent Kabardin horse, which Pago and Arykshoo presented to the staff captain.
   - I have noticed in your house yesterday, Vladimir Alexeyevich, lots of Circassian rifles and Daghestan daggers, shashkas... But you still do not own the main Circassian wealth: A real Kabardin horse. Accept this thoroughbred as my present to you. I got him from good people. Take care of him. He will become a friend of yours. So loyal, that may be you had no such loyal a friend before.
   The gift of the old soldier touched prince Vladimir.
   - Why, I did nothing to deserve such an honor from you! What can I do in return? Can I?
   And Oblensky dashed to his rooms. Grabbing what caught his eye, he came out and was trying to give it to the captain. But the latter was offended.
   - I will not take anything! Do not distress the old man.
   - What shall I do, then?
   - All right! I will take this pipe and some tobacco. Do not hurry to be grateful. Our life, God willing, will be long. We will be able to present each other with the treasures, and with happy minutes, and moments of danger, and hours of joy. Because all this is the meaning of the combat camaraderie.
   Vladimir Alexeyevich was moved beyond limits. Dropping all the gifts he wanted to present to Maximov, he warmly embraced the captain.
  
   Pago and Arykshoo were sitting in the koonak parlor and ate hot lakooms, washing them down with Kalmyk tea. After the demise of Amysh Malichipkh prepared these round crumpets everyday and distributed them among children in the vicinity and served them to the table of Amysh's sons. According to the tradition, this was not obligatory, but Malichipkh decided in her own way.
   The brothers were discussing the problem of the aul aqueduct.
   - The work to be done is not so extensive - said Arykshoo - I inspected it recently. We have only to clean the channels. That is all.
   Pago agreed. At that moment Malichipkh entered the room, bringing a plate of fresh hot lakooms.
   - The horse you gave to koonak Maxim he presented to another man.
   The brothers exchanged glances. How she came to know about this? Even the scout could not bring this news - the time between the event and the report did not allow for the road. But Arykshoo, who tested the magic charms of his sister -in -law, consented quickly.
   - It is his horse. He is free to keep it for himself or to present to anyone.
   Pago nodded:
   - His choice. What of it?
   - That horse has a bad road ahead - added Malichipkh - it is full of blood.
   - We are not selecting the ways for the horses of the Russian officers. It's the God's providence.
   - And where that road is destined? - asked Arykshoo.
   - To the Heavens.
   In the turmoil of mourning the will of the old prince Amysh about the daughter of the general Zass was not forgotten. Some of the uzdens demanded the assassination of the general himself. But Pago was hard: - `"We will do as Amysh said". When the preparations were under way, they discussed many plans, but all of them were rejected by Hasa*. Broad Kuban River to be forded, high fortress
   walls, a trained and combat -ready garrison did not leave any chances to the attackers.
   At last they decided to force the river with the help of the inflated sheepskins.
   - And what then? - Pago asked reasonably.
   - Then, - said Dabech - you take two long stems, tie me to one of their ends, and lift me above the fortress walls. I will open the fort gates, and then God will help us!
   And so it was done. Dabech was delivered behind the wall, he opened the gates, killing the sentry with his dagger. The battle was bitter, but useless. Amysh warriors roamed the city, but were unable to find the general's daughter in all this tumult.
   -We have to begin all this from the very beginning - said Dabech to his comrades.
   The Russians are expecting new raids, so let them calm down. It will take time.
   ___________
   *Hasa - a council of elders and nobles
  
  
   But baron Zass was a cunning beast. He was not going to becalm and was not going to permit a moment's calm to the others. Grigory Hristoforovich was appointed a Commander of the Caucasian Line when he was only a colonel. The promotion to the general's rank came after two years. His headquarters were situated near Stavropol, but he spent most of the time in the Forstadt settlement and Strong Trench Fort on the right bank of Kuban. The reason was that he loved the forest on that bank with its rich game grounds. General ordered a hunting lodge to be built with great kennels. At the same time water mills were being built on the Nevolka River. He permitted Bulgars to build chegirs - large peasant farms famous for their vegetable gardens. The Bulgars - migrants from a faraway Slavonic country were growing excellent tomatoes, cabbage, eggplants, onions and pepper. They taught the local population to erect and tend the hothouses, and, moreover, raised the winegrowing to the height, never encountered in these lands.
   General Zass also remained in the Caucasian history as a man who moved the Circassian Armenians - Chercesogays - from Adyghe auls to the right bank of Kuban, closer to the Strong Trench Fort. Dabech knew their history well. How could he not to? Living at his atalyk's, he met them in the Adygheya auls, as well as in Besleney, Temirgoy, Abadzekh. Now, sitting on the Kuban bank, and staring at the water, he thought: " Kuban flows differently from our mountain rivers. Ours are more rash, noisier, and dead serious, in a way. But Kuban is more majestic. It feels its power, its strength and is proud of that. How long we will have to wait, I wonder. When the Russians will return to the routine patrolling? What time it will take to lull their vigilance?"
   His thoughts returned again and again to Chercesogays. Many things seemed strange to him in Aiub -Hoi aul, to which Hagoor took him once to acquaint him with his koonak Ovanes. At a first glance it was usual Adyghe aul with usual Adyghes - language, manners, traditions... But something was strange, some unknown odors. Among the usual Adyghe house utensils were some strange things of non -Circassian origin.
   Dabech bent to Hagoor:
   - Is something wrong?
   His atalyk smiled cunningly. Ovanes guessed the youth's uncertainty:
   - The kind ear must hear the call for help, - said he to Hagoor.
   - It will, when the time comes, - said Hagoor with utmost simplicity.
   The food was ample, but was served in small servings, which also astonished Dabech. Shchips - a national sauce for the gedlibje* was so hot, that Dabech had to mobilize all his will not to show, that the pepper burnt his palate. Only when dessert was served - yellow with red stripes saffron apples, waxy pears, mauve -blue grape clusters, Hagoor, turning to Ovanes, said:
   - My pupil demonstrated his keenness of observation. He noticed, that in your aul some things are different from ours.
   Ovanes smiled:
   - It means, that we were poor trainees of Adyghe customs.
   - Tell him about your people, - asked Hagoor. -That is the aim of our visit to you.
   - Long time ago, during the invasion of Temurleng, - Ovanes began his narration
   we, the Armenians, or Yermaly as you call us, moved from Ani and Ararat valleys
   to the shores of the Black Sea. Some of the migrants went to Crimea...
   - But Adyghes do not live on the shores of tengiz, and you are Circassians.
   - No, many Adyghes live on the sea shore - Hagoor assured his alumnus - may be not as much, as in the mountains of Caucasus, but they live in a way, deserving respect and, if this respect is lacking, they restore it with their weapons.
   - Yes, I know, that the respect is not rendered for asking - consented the pupil.
   Ovanes continued his narration:
   _____________________
   Gedlibje - a traditional Kabardin dish of chicken with white sauce
   ... We lived happily in the beginning. But with years this happiness was diluted with bitterness. The decades passed, and there was less sweet, than bitter. You know, young warrior, - he turned to Dabech - that only Motherland might replace Motherland. Even thousand stars will not replace the Moon.
   Two sides of his recollections were like two sides of the sword.
   - Our mind and reason is our support and defense - continued Ovanes. - During the rule of Khan Mohammad - Girey in Crimea our reason told us to leave our homes and property and flee to Circassia, which we knew by our business affairs. The Circassians accepted the Armenians kindly, giving shelter and defending from the Khan. And since we were good warriors, the best in our place, the Circassians considered us to be equal to their nobility, uzdens. As a sign of friendship the Adyghes offered our young men to marry their daughters.
   - So, you are Yermalys? - asked Dabech, and notes of disappointment were distinguishable in his voice.
   - No, my son. We are Chercesogays, Circassian Armenians. A new nation on the Earth.
   - Do you believe in Allah?
   - When we came to your land, the local highlanders, who became our brothers, had no certain idea about their belief. Here the Christian, Moslem and Pagan rites existed side by side. But we decided to keep our Christian creed.
   - What about your language, clothing, everything - Dabech made a wide gesture about the saklia.
   - All this we adopted from the Adyghes. Everything: traditions, weaponry, horses... Your Adyghe beauties became mothers of a new generation of Chercesogays. Circassians and Armenians became one nation. But when Porta converted Adyghes into Islam, Chercesogays were reluctant to follow. Loving the creed of our fathers, we preserved it, and suffered from oppression, loosing gradually our respect and honor, which we enjoyed in our relations with the highlanders. Sometimes we were oppressed by the followers of Moslem religion. Previously the monks from Trapezund came to us freely to perform religious rites. But with this oppression, they had to come secretively, and later their visits terminated completely. Our religion was perishing, and that is why many of us left their auls to go under the protection of the Russians.
   - You stayed, though.
   - Not only me. Many of us stayed. But the majority left. They settled on the left bank of Kuban River, opposite the Strong Trench Fort, and founded Armavir aul.
   Later Ovanes and Hagoor, taking Dabech with them, visited that aul. Dabech remembered this first encounter. Usual Circassian settlement, with primitive enforcements. A ditch bordered three of its unequal sides. The fourth was descending to Kuban.
   In the Armavir aul Ovanes, Hagoor and Dabech with the accompanying warriors stopped with the Kasparov family. Bech noticed, that Chercesogays even here, on the plains, were wearing the Circassian clothes, lived in Adyghe saklias, used highlanders' furniture, spoke Adyghe language. But some things were different. Many customs were mixed here. The spicy food, uncustomary fragrances, their manner of movement and speech. He did not reject these odors. On the contrary, he liked them. But there was something alien, not characteristic to the Adyghe food. And their names? Circassian, Armenian, Russian: Kaspar, Stepan, Nagoopsh, Vartan, Khanaf...
   Dabech recollected all this, sitting on the bank of Kuban and looking at the swift water. The young prince remembered the wooden church, and the Chercesogays' mounted militia, which defended the aul, and secret posts of foot soldiers, and the bridge over Kuban. He was especially impressed with the wooden church. on a stone foundation, the roof covered with tin plates. Two cupolas - the big and the small - with the crosses high above. The priest, who met the guests, informed them, that Echmiadzin Patriarch sent him to Chercesogays.
   "The church, the church", - a thought not yet formed was throbbing in the head of the young prince. What was it? And then as if the lightning illuminated all around - he got it! Now he knew what to do, how to get the sixteen -year old beauty Katherine, and the daughter of Zass. Let only Arykshoo listen to his plan!
   Standing in front of his beloved uncle, whom he tried to imitate in everything, as formerly he imitated Hagoor, Bech told him:
   - Ziuskhan, let your glory be multiplied, allow me to interrupt our waiting and express a thought, which may be of interest to you.
   Arykshoo was sitting under an old oak tree, cleaning his pistols and rifles, which were impeccably clean and did not require any cleaning. But to sit completely idle was unbearable to Pago's brother.
   - Speak, - he said not lifting his eyes from the weapons.
   - It seems to me that I found the way to kidnap the general's daughter.
   There was a prolonged silence, after which the senior uttered:
   - Why you are silent then?
   - I am afraid of a mistake.
   - Even Gods may make mistakes.
   - I thought about the Chercesogays' church, began Dabech - I was there once.
   - So, what's the idea? - Arykshoo was already getting the nephew's idea.
   - She will come there. She is a Christian. She cannot abstain.
   - How we will know about it?
   - I will go to Hagoor. He has koonaks among Chercesogays. He will organize everything. Leave me a dozen of warriors and return to Kabarda.
   Arykshoo smirked.
   - The idea is good. But you are silly. How can I leave you alone against Zass? And then, you know, that I am always ahead of my warriors in any battle.
   - But Hagoor will be with me, and his sons.
   - I will be with you, though nobody may make agreements with death.
   Dabech was looking at his uncle with admiration. He really did not know any warrior more worthy than Arykshoo. How many renown exploits were committed by him! How many songs were composed in his honor! One of them narrated as Arykshoo went to a march with two hundred horsemen and met a dozen mounted Line Cossacks. A skirmish began, and it was easy to forecast the results of the combat. But the leader of the Kabardins, seeing that the Cossacks did not hesitate to engage an enemy much superior to themselves in number, in recognition of their courage ordered the Kabardins to retreat. Then he sent forward only twelve men, to make chances equal.
   - Glory to the victors! - said Arykshoo.
   The battle was horrible. In the end all twelve Kabardins were dead, with two Cossacks remaining in saddles.
   - Take your dead and wounded and go - ordered Arykshoo to them - Take them and go. You deserve your freedom for your valor.
   That was the song Dabech remembered now.
   - Why you are staring at me like that? - the voice of the prince brought his nephew back.
   - Sorry, - Dabech was embarrassed.
   - Go to Hagoor. Tell him of your plan. And tell him that I have approved it.
  
   The morning was blanketed in fog, when Dabech with one of his uzdens - Pshikan, the son of Kes - a renowned warrior of Kabarda - approached Hagoor's aul.
   - Let us wait till the dawn, - said Bech.
   - You don't want to interrupt the morning sleep of your teacher? - asked Pshikan.
   - Anything bad about it?
   - Nothing bad, but nothing good, either.
   - Let us better memorize once more the reason of our journey here - said young prince in a conciliatory tone.
   - Good.
   Two youths were making schemes of a plan to kidnap Zass' daughter, drawing them on the sand with the thin sticks. They did it to make their explanations to Dabech's atalyk as clear and commendable as possible.
   They were not concerned about a Russian general with German name of Zass, quietly sleeping in the fortress. They did not contemplate the war, which was waged against their country for so long a time, that everything became mixed and uncertain. This war sometimes flashed up with burning auls and villages, then died out slowly. And then the long lines of highlanders' carts, loaded with grain, cheese, butter, honey were approaching Russian forests, which were looking into the eyes and hearts of the local inhabitants with their cannons. Circassians were bringing to the fortresses felt, and boorkas, and bashlyks of a good handwork. Sometimes they traded with saddles, brought the herds of sheep for the soldiers ration. At that time the Russian soldier had a piece of meat in his porridge. And they sold horses. Oh, what horses!
   But then either highlanders would come raiding some Cossack villages, or Russian soldiers would have "a combative affair" and - off we go! - the cannons fire, the highlanders ambush a convoy, leaving no one alive. Strange war. As any war - blood and tears, woe and death. The fields not plowed, men on the boorkas in the yards, women wailing. The war, to be short. Nine out of ten either killed or dead of some disease. Those left alive habitually grab a rifle. The highlanders and the Cossacks both were loosing the habit to labor. The soldiers forgot about quiet day or night. What quiet? The highlanders were compared to a lynx, or to falcon, or to the irbis - snow leopard, ready for a jump. All these comparisons were true. Either a sentry would be kidnapped, or an officer, sent with a convoy on a mission, would be taken prisoner.
   And sometimes... God, have mercy on us! Whole auls were burnt for slightest disobedience. No children, women or oldsters were spared. Total annihilation. Where the merchants hid at such moments? The highlanders revenged, spilling the blood of their adversaries liberally. Russian officers also were not loyal or kind to the locals. Some of their names made the blood freeze in the veins of people in auls. Everyone was to his own means and devices - to burn the aul, to hijack a herd, to enslave people. Fearing sudden raids, Russians began to exterminate forests around cannon forts and fortresses. The highlanders were moved from their native places to the plains or the steppe, or to Turkey. Move! Off with you!
   The generals were ferocious. Zass more then the others, fully deserving his nickname - Shaitan. It was his order to burn the auls, to cut the heads of Circassians and to send them to Berlin academy for experiments. "Kill, kill, kill" - was his motto. The hearts were becoming callous.
   Grigori Hristoforovich issued an order: "No prisoners! Cut the Circassian heads off! Those, which will not be sent to Berlin, sell to their own relatives." Such was Zass, the westerner. Blonde, with long splendid moustache. Shaitan -general.
  
   When the morning became fresh and violet, the travelers, messengers of Arykshoo, descended to aul and dismounted at Hagoor's saklia. Was it a joy! When the tumult subsided, and the guests have eaten of the proffered breakfast, the host looked at his alumnus expectantly. Dabech reported to him the kidnap plan short and clear. The dessert was already taken off from the three -legged tables, but the atalyk was still silent. Then he said, looking somewhere behind Dabech:
   - Its possible to break your tooth with the barley grain. This one is not a grain. It is a tough nut.
   -You taught me, ada, that even a fox might bark at a wolf as a dog in the time of need.
   - Well, we are not so desperate yet, my son - Hagoor smiled.
   - What shall I tell Arykshoo?
   Pshikan was silent all this time, examining closely the weaponry, hanging on the saklia's walls. Bech's atalyk approved of his self -restraint, and he decided to know the second guest's opinion.
  -- Why wouldn't you divulge us in your feelings? - he asked Kes's son.
   - The youth is not ailing with feelings, but living by them - was the modest answer.
   The answer was to Adygheyan's taste. He stood up, approached the wall and took off one of the daggers, hanging on the wall mat.
   - Some time I presented your friend with a lot of Adyghe weaponry. Accept this modest gift from me, too.
   His words about modesty of the gift did not comply with the truth. Ivory, silver, oxidized ornament were of great craftsmanship. Pshikan extended his palm to accept the gift and felt a touch to something mysterious and great. He took the blade out of the scabbard.
   "Yes, my guess was right - flashed in his mind - The Damask steel!"
   The youth kissed the blade.
   - I won't take it out of the scabbard without need. I won't put it back without
   glory, - he pronounced the traditional formula.
   - God bless you. Amen.
   After this interdiction, which he used to think over what he heard from his alumnus, atalyk said:
   - You ask me what will you say to Arykshoo? Nothing! No need to. Because I will go with you, accompanied by Chercesogays and the uzdens of our aul. I will tell your uncle everything at our meeting.
   Dabech's face brightened:
   - What about my brothers? Will they go with us?
   - No! - said Hagoor curtly. - They have nothing to do there. We will not fight the Russians. We will achieve our aim by our cleverness and cunning.
   Then suddenly, astonished that such idea did not enter his mind before, he inquired:
   - Is not this beauty we are going to kidnap a bride for you?
   Dabech got red in the face, offended by such a supposition, and answered:
   - I am not going to marry the daughter of the executioner of my own people. I swear that...
   - Do not swear, until you are forced to.
   - False or true vows?
   - Neither. Once your granddad Amysh was asked: "What is glory?" Do you know, what he answered?
   Dabech shrugged his shoulders.
   - Amysh said: "Luck, most probably". - So let's hope for luck.
   The preparations of a small expedition were not protracted. Hagoor invited only Chercesogays - his koonak Ovanes, Barsog Alaverdov, and Shu Karakashev. And two Adygheyan uzdens - Bek -Murza and Kushmezu, his neighbors. Explaining his choice, he said to his alumnus and to his companion:
   - A wise man was asked; " Who has more rights in your aul?" The answer was immediate - "The neighbor!"
   - That's why you invited your neighbors to participate in this risky affair?
   - Risky, you say? Yes! But it is also a very important one. To fulfill the Amysh's testament and to punish the executioner of Adyghe nation...
   - Not only to punish, but also to teach a lesson, - said Pshikan quietly.
   - Agree with you, young warrior! Of course, to teach a lesson... Probably that is the primary mission.
   A small detachment, headed by Hagoor, left the aul at noon. Each of the horsemen led a spare horse by the bridle.
   "It means, that we will move without halts", - thought Dabech.
   He was right. The molten gold of the dusk found them far away from aul. Then the evening got sad, and soon closed its eyes. But the horsemen still hurried, changing a trot to a gallop and back. The moon already put a silver lining to the clouds. The crescent was swimming in the sky. The Hagoor's horse was the first to break into step on a moon -lit path. The others followed as the cranes behind their leader.
   "Why the night does not like bright colors? - thought Dabech. And answered himself: - Because they mean death to the night".
   The time took the dice of the stars from the playing table of the sky, the nocturnal birds returned to their nests, and the last mole of darkness dissolved in the light of dawn. When the first rays of the sun fell on the ground, the troop reached the bank of Laba.
   - Well, this is the morning - said Hagoor, breaking the silence for the first time since their departure.
   - As usual, morning changes the night! - Kushmezu noticed reasonably.
   The small detachment was riding alongside Laba to Kuban. The fog still swirled over the water. The sun could be only guessed there, in the East. It was quiet. Only the horses' breathing and light stomping of their hooves on the soft ground, covered by a carpet of flowers and grass were heard. When the rays of the sun got the color of ripe shaptal* the birds in the neighboring forest began to sing. Their chorus was gaining force. Life was waking in the meadow grass, too. It was plentiful there: dragonflies, butterflies, grasshoppers... The meadow birds twittered.
   Hagoor, turning to Ovanes, asked him about this morning activity:
   - Why any creature - be it snakes, birds, and grasshoppers - lives in peace, and we cannot?
   Ovanes smiled:
   - Right you are. The snake does not bite the snake. But the snake is a victim of an eagle. The sheep are afraid of a wolf, and the chamois fears the leopard.
   - Another wonder is the cleverness and usefulness of bees, the industriousness of ants, - it was unclear, whether Hagoor consented with Ovanes, or changed the topic.
   The pheasant flew up from under the hooves of Dabech's horse. The youth grabbed his rifle, but Ovanes stopped him:
   - Don't make noise. What we will do with the cock?
   The dawn made a dewy bed out of the meadow. The travelers moved in silence for a long time.
   - It is much easier to begin the war, than to terminate it - said Ovanes suddenly.
   Hagoor kept silence. The sun was getting warmer, when Ovanes asked his koonak:
   -What you consider to be undefeatable in this world?
   - When the force and the justice are together on one side - immediately answered Hagoor, as if he was waiting for this very question. - And more... If we are not trying to make the life of each other more bearable, the life of all those living
   ___________________
   *shaptal - peach
  
   around, what is the purpose of this life?
   - Yes, - Chercesogay nodded - What is it for? The rich and the poor in the end of their way need but only one shroud each.
   Ovanes bent deep down from his horse, tearing a flower.
   "Bold, - thought Dabech, - agile and deft, like a Kabardin."
   Chercesogay handed the flower to Hagoor, saying:
   - Even the most beautiful of flowers becomes a box of seeds some time.
   Hagoor laughed:
   - Well, this is the result of philosophizing! The shroud, the seed box - all this is another name for an approaching old age.
   They were already on the left bank of Kuban, when they encountered a Cossack patrol. Dabech, Pshikan and the uzdens took out their rifles, but Hagoor and Ovanes were riding unflappably.
   - But they are only ten! - hissed Dabech hoarsely. - I will do them in with Pshikan!
   - Do not get into skirmish! - Atalyk's voice was strict. - We have another, much more important task!
   One horseman separated from the convoy and was approaching their group.
   - Good horseman's posture! As a Kabardin! - said Ovanes.
   - Far from a real Kabardin! - Dabech was still discontent.
   But Hagoor put a stop to that discussion:
   - Who else he must resemble? The people take useful skills one from the other. Especially neighbors. Remember, that when your granddad Amysh was asked about his best teacher, he answered shortly - "my neighbor!"
   The Cossack, sent by his commander, was already close. His rifle was in the cover, pistols in the holster, but he was looking very militant.
   - Hey, strangers, were do you keep your way to?
   - I am uzden Hagoor, here is uzden of the first degree Ovanes, of Chercesogays, and these are our servants - he made an enveloping gesture with his hand.
   - Our destination is Armavir aul, where we have trade affairs - Ovanes continued.
   - Report this to your commander. We are peaceful Circassians.
   - Stay where you are! - commanded the Cossack. He pivoted around and rode to the patrol.
   - What will we do? - Hagoor asked turning to Ovanes.
   - Anything, but fight. Anything.
   - Right you are. No need to extinguish house fire with the holy water.
   The Cossacks were still discussing the situation among themselves.
   - What do they want? - hurried Dabech.
   - Train your patience! - ordered atalyk.
   At last another Cossack separated from patrol and approached Circassians. He stopped at a distance of twenty yards, as his predecessor did.
   - Who of you is Ovanes? - he shouted.
   - I am!
   Chercesogay started his horse in his direction.
   - I will give him five silver rubles, and that will settle the affair.
   - Do that, - Hagoor agreed.
   After a minute the Cossack and Ovanes shook hands.
   - A happy journey! - the Line Cossack was in good mood.
   And two troops went each their way. That is life. It demands bribing. All the time. The human greed is incurable. If that Line Cossack would fulfill his duty - the daughter of Zass would be out of danger. And now only God knows, what is better: sending luck to Circassians, or let the Mother of God protect the general's daughter.
   It would be impossible to approach the Kabardins camp unnoticed: Arykshoo selected such a place that was difficult to imagine. The narrow passage led to the wide ravine. There was another passage, on the opposite side. Above was a thick forest, hiding the ravine from view. The slopes were steep and high, preventing any penetration to the koop camp. A merry stream of clear and transparent water was flowing at the bottom.
   Long before they reached their destined point, Hagoor's sharp eyes noticed, that they were being watched.
   "These must be Arykshoo's men" - decided Adygheyan. And he was not mistaken.
   Two shots before the entrance to the ravine a horseman with face, covered by his bashlyk, appeared.
   Raising his hand the horseman greeted the newcomers:
   - Oh, live long apshi!*
   - We also wish you happiness, live long, too! - Hagoor answered.
   - I dare not to ask who are you and where is your way destined, - was the quick response of the horseman.
   But Hagoor already made a sign to Dabech to join the conversation.
   - Tokan! - shouted the young prince, recognizing the watchman. -This is me, Dabech.
   - See you, Dabech - answered abrek and, talking the highwaymen language "farshibze"**, exchanged some words with newcomers to make sure that all is well. Only after that Tokan approached Hagoor.
   - My lord is waiting for you.
   From this moment Tokan led the detachment. Stretching in one line, the horsemen moved slowly amidst the thick hazelnut, wild rose, hawthorn, hippophae bushes. Here and there Hagoor noticed that the party was followed.
   "How cunning of Arykshoo, - thought Ovanes - cunning and clever. He is not concealing, that we are being followed by his men."
   - What are you thinking about, koonak? - asked him Hagoor.
   - Whom about, shall we say? - replied Ovanes.
   - Well, whom about?
   - About the man we are going to. He knows nearly everything about us. And his
   __________________________________
   * apshi - a word, denoting a wish in a toast or a greeting, like "Let you..."
   ** farshibze - the special language, the highwaymen's jargon
  
  
   nephew is with us. But our party is followed for many miles.
   - He does not want the horse of events around him to return home without rider. May we denunciate him for that?The clouds above their heads were transforming from white and fluffy into gray and cold, and then into black and heavy, promising a thunderstorm. The neighboring slopes were smoking. But the air! It was filling your breast, making the head swim. Dabech and his companions were inhaling this air, like a thirsty man, who cannot stop drinking fresh and cool water.
   - The thunderstorm is coming, - said Ovanes.
   - God knows - answered Hagoor - here the wind is the master of ceremonies. It is becoming fresh. May be it will dispel the clouds.
   The path, winding between the bushes, was climbing up steeply.
   - When we will rise on those hills, there will be a descent to the camp - Tokan said.
   The wayfarers were silent.
   "Rise or descend, what's the difference, - thought Hagoor. - Howsoever long were the road, it will lead us to our aim sometime.
   Ovanes interrupted his thoughts:
   - Thousand ways are leading from the destination, and the only one brings you to
   it - said he to his koonak. - Glory to the Lord! I think our aim is near.
   Then, after a short pause, he added:
   - The first of them.
   The descent to the camp was so steep, that the horsemen had to dismount. Pshikan failed to hold his four -legged friend, and that stumbled down. The horse got on feet at the bottom of the ravine, shook its skin, neighed and thrashed about. Out of nowhere the people of Arykshoo appeared and caught the unlucky horse's bridle.
   Son the wayfarers were brought to Arykshoo. Where was their tiredness? The formal greetings, customary gestures and words.
   - I expected you by tomorrow morning.
   - We were in a hurry to fulfill the will of Amysh.
   - God bless you!
   - I do not go out of my gates without intention to accomplish my mission, - said Hagoor.
   - Desires are a blooming garden. But the real aim in that garden is the apples - replied Arykshoo.
   The thunderstorm never came. The wind dispelled the clouds. A lonely cloud hung on the disc of the sun. The cranes were flying low. They flew and cried. Their cry was so painful that the leaves were falling from the trees. That's why the autumn is called the fall.
   Howsoever hurried Hagoor with his people to meet Arykshoo, and howsoever the son of Amysh was bored by waiting the Adygheyans, they did not commence their business at once. The copper caldrons were full of boiled lamb meat, golden pastah and schips.
   - Fkeblaghe - welcome! - Arykshoo invited the wayfarers to the camp table - Happiness comes with the guest.
   - Let your happiness multiply - Ovanes said in return.
   Arykshoo inquired the newcomers about their health, about the way they surmounted, asked other questions, having nothing in common with the aim of their meeting. At last they remembered Zass.
   - Wouldn't it be better, if we ambushed the general himself and kill him?
   - If I could kill him, would he be alive still? - answered Kabardin prince with a question. - But this is not principal. My father, Amysh, indicated this way of punishment for Shaitan.
   - Yes, I know. - The Adygheyan was thoughtful.
   Dabech was standing side -by -side with Arykshoo.
   - What can you say about that man? - the nephew asked his uncle, indicating Ovanes with his eyes.
   - Wait till he talks, - said Arykshoo - then we will know his price.
   Ovanes, as if hearing Kabardins, said:
   - We have come here not to discuss the problem. We have arrived to fulfill your father's will - said Chercesogay. - My compatriots consider following words to be true: " Never mix in other people's quarrel". And they are right. But this is not a quarrel of strangers. Zass offended not only Kabardins, but also all Adyghes. Amysh fixed the punishment for his crime. Let us obey his will.
   - And let the cruelty be punished!
   - Cruel people are always cowards - Ovanes supported his koonak.
   They discussed the plan of Katherine kidnapping at length. Everybody agreed, that since the general's daughter comes regularly to the Chercesogay church, it is the best place for the attack. But it was essential to visit the Armavir aul, to inquire the locals about minutest details of those visits, and to ensure their support.
   - It won't be so simple - Ovanes noted. - The Armavir population has cemented their friendship with Russians. Zass was good to them. Remember also, that the Chercesogay militia is very stern with the newcomers. And they are vigilant and gallant. Will not yield to Adyghes in combat, since they are the same Adyghes.
   - Well what shall we do then? - reasoned Arykshoo.
   - I would like to go to aul myself - Ovanes proposed.
   - May I accompany you?
   But Chercesogay was uncompromising here:
   - No, only we, the Chercesogays, will go to reconnaissance. It will not raise unwanted questions. We are frequent guests in Armavir. And Armavir people visit our places, too. We will scout the situation and report to you what we have seen or heard.
   Arykshoo didn't like this idea. What two people know, is everybody's knowledge - that was his experience. Too many participants knew the details of the kidnapping plan, moreover - it disclosed the location of the Kabardins camp.
   Calling Hagoor aside, the prince inquired:
   - Do you trust the Armenian?
   - I trust my koonak, but we will change the camp location after their departure.
   Arykshoo's smile was sad:
   - Than you don't.
   - As you like. I repeat, that I trust Ovanes and his companions. But I do not want to try my luck, so let's leave a watch here and move. I know some hiding places around not worse than this one.
   - Good, - the Kabardin consented.
   - When Ovanes and his two companions mounted their horses and ready to go on their reconnaissance mission, Hagoor stopped them:
   - You, Barsog - said he to Alaverdov - will remain with us. Two people will reach the destination quicker.
   Ovanes did not show that he was offended at this sign of mistrust to Chercesogays. Taking offence in a deal, when dozens of lives are but a price of a single mistake was foolish. He knew it.
   "Great is your power, if you control yourself" - came into his head. Hagoor's koonak won that victory over himself, but it was not easy. He looked into the eyes of Adygheyan and smiled. Their eyes met.
   - Is something troubling you? - Ovanes asked.
   - Yes, - was the answer. - But I am not troubled over my own fate. I fear for all of us. You know.
   Often the eyes say things different from those pronounced by the tongue. That was why Ovanes tried to read every flicker in Hagoor's stare.
   "Believe the eyes, - said he to himself, - the eyes only!"
   And suddenly he was calm. Ovanes believed his Adygheyan koonak.
   - Stay! That's for the best, - he ordered to Barsog. - That was settled between us back in our aul!
   Speaking "farshibze"' Arykshoo asked Hagoor:
   - Did you really make such a decision in Adygheya?
   - No! - was the answer. - He is just making a good face in a bad game. Let us help him.
   The band of Kabardins escorted Ovanes and Shu Karakashev to the left bank of Kuban and returned to the camp, which was ready to move to a new location, indicated by Hagoor.
   - Your time has come - Arykshoo addressed his nephew. - Together with Pshikan and Barsog you will stay here and wait for news from Ovanes. Bek -Murza also will be with you. He knows the place of our new camp. Remember, that much depends on you in this raid. It may turn any way. Our accomplices must return soon, but it may happen, that instead of them a detachment of Chercesogay militia or a hundred of Cossacks, or a company of Russian soldiers will be here. You are a vehement man. It is not always bad. But the more daring you are, the more self -control you have to exercise. Got me?
   Dabech nodded.
   - Know, what I fear most?
   The nephew was looking into his uncle's eyes expectantly.
   - That you will loose the feeling of surrounding reality and would not control yourself.
   - You wouldn't want me to swear to you? - Bech said it in a very low voice.
   - No! I wouldn't think of offending you with that.
   - Good, then, - said the youth. - Let us rely on Aus Gerg and the Mother of God.
   Arykshoo led his group, following Hagoor, while Dabech and three his comrades stayed to wait for the news from Armavir. Time was dragging slow, beating moments into hours, into dawns, into days filled with warm tired autumn sun and evenings.
   "It would be nice to see Malichipkh - thought the youth - she would tell us the events, awaiting in the future."
   In the daytime, when he was napping under the hazelnut tree on a hirsute boorka, he dreamt about his mother. She came to the smooth marble plate, which appeared God knows where from, and threw a deck of fortuneteller cards on. The cards made a row on a smooth surface.
   - Pick one card - Malichipkh ordered.
   - Why one? - Dabech was surprised.
   - One will be enough - said mother.
   But Dabech was insisting:
   - You will not be able to answer all my questions with one card.
   - My sons are as stubborn, as their father. Let it be your way. Take two cards.
   Bech picked one from the marble plate.
   He felt his hand trembling, his brow perspiring, the legs softening and going numb. And all that in a dream!
   - Do not worry so, - calmed him Malichipkh - open the card!
   The hands did not obey Dabech.
   "What happens, if I will be so undetermined in a battle?"
   - Do not worry. It will never happen - Malichipkh answered his thought.
   The youth turned the card, his heart missed a beat, and then he exploded from indignation.
   - The black suit! Black!
   True, the card was a king of spades, looking at him and smiling white -toothed smile.
   - Never mind the black suit, - quietly said his mother in a singsong voice. - The black king says, that you will soon receive pleasant news.
   The heavy burden fell at once from Dabech's soul.
   - Well, - he heard his mothers singing voice through the dream fog, - will you pick another card from the deck?
   He wanted to decline. Wanted, but couldn't. His hand went to the cold marble and selected another hard sheet.
   - Open! Well, open it! - Malichipkh ordered.
   He obeyed. Spades again. The queen this time. His mother laughed. Loudly and gaily.
   Dabech kept silence, waiting for her explanations.
   - Your desire will be fulfilled soon, - said Malichipkh. Her red clothes suddenly turned white. She waved her hands, as a bird, and flew up to the clouds.
   The dream faded. He jumped to his feet, and, lifting his face, looked high into the sky, contemplating the white clouds. A flock of turtledoves were circling over the ravine.
   - Pshikan! Barsog! Bek -Murza! Have you seen here a woman in red closes?
   - No! - was the answer.
   - In white dress, may be?
   - Hey, what's with you? - Pshikan was indignant. - What woman? What dress?
   - Malichipkh, my mother, was here.
   Pshikan jumped from his seat, came to his friend and demanded:
   - What did she say? Answer me!
   Everybody in Amysh aul knew, that Malichipkh's predictions always came true. For good or for evil.
   - So, what did she say?
   - No, I will not tell you now. Only this: the soul of Amysh will rest in peace soon.
   Barsog and Bek -murza were standing there, confused. They did not understand what happened. The Kabardins did not explain to them anything. Why should they? They wouldn't understand, anyway, and probably would laugh at them.
   The youths were guarding the entrance to the ravine round the clock, so as not to be locked in a trap. The fire was done only to make a kettle of Kalmyk tea or to warm themselves. They fed on chooreks, cold lamb, smoked cheese. They spoke little, each thinking to himself, though their thoughts were mostly same.
   Dabech was reclining on his boorka, watching the moon crescent in the starry sky. The moon rays were pecking at the earth. Strange thoughts came into his head. Came and went away. The wind was blowing from Kuban.
   "It would be good to bathe in the river now", - thought Dabech. And then his thoughts diverted to the river: -"This river could easily quench the thirst of a wayfarer. Or of ten. Or of a whole army, for sure. But it is terrible for the river when nobody comes to drink at all".
   Pshikan, who was sitting on an old tree stump nearby, interrupted his thoughts:
   - Do you know how many grains are in one wheat's ear?
   Bech was surprised by this question. But he was surprised even more, when he realized, that he has no answer to that question. Rising to a sitting position, he asked Pshikan:
   - Do you know ?
   - No. I asked you that, because we all eat bread, but very few know how many grains there are in one ear. That's what we are, the people.
   Then they napped under the blanket of soft coolness of the autumn night. In his sleep, as when wide -awake, Bech saw the starry sky. He heard a voice, which said: "The stars are in good disposition for a raid." That news delighted Dabech and he was fast asleep.
   Pshikan waked him up, when the sun was rejoicing at a late morning. The day was slowly gaining the Earth.
   - Time for a cup of tea!
   Dabech liked this drink, enriched by the fragrant alpine flavors. At home it was better still, served with milk. But here it also was pleasant. Burning his lips with a scalding hot sweet -smelling drink, he gulped it, washing down smoked cheese and choorek.
   - You slept long! - Pshikan laughed.
   - I saw a good dream.
   After the Kalmyk tea Pshikan volunteered to clean the rifles and pistols. Soon Bech joined him, finding nothing else to do. The time flew, and friends, lost in their work, did not notice, as the sun went past zenith.
   - Bech! - Bek -Murza ran to them from the other end of the ravine. - Someone rides in this direction, singing a song loudly!
   The youths jumped to their feet, grabbing their weapons.
   - What song is this? - asked Dabech, running.
   - A Kabardin song.
   All the four sentries were listening at the silence. Yes, after some time a song was heard:
  
   Let's go, my sister Karashash,
   To see if Kanshoby is returning,
   If he is not yet, our breadwinner,
   We will cry with you, my sister,
   We will burn the black stone with tears.
   No, it's not the black stone, which would be burnt
   Through by our tears, but my eyes.
  
   - This is a messenger from our scouts, - Pshikan said.
   - But why should he sing loudly? - Dabech was thoughtful.
   - So that we will not fire at him from the ambush, not recognizing him.
   The voice of the singer approached:
  
   My plaits are swirling down to my heels,
   My raven black plates are shining,
   Why they shine, oh, whom for? -
   My master is away.
   Many princes hang around, seeking me,
   But I need not any other man, but you.
   I will not be anyone's wife,
   I will better be your widow.
   Barely alive of grief.
  
   - Stay in the ravine with Barsog! - ordered Dabech to Bek -Murza. - We with Pshikan will meet the singer.
   Climbing the steep and tortuous path, the friends hid in the thick hazelnut bushes, ready to anything.
   The song was very near now:
   Who will find your body, Kanshoby,
   Who will bring back your body, Kanshoby?
   Who will unite us again?
   For him I will be a slave,
   I'll feed his small children
   With my white breast.
  
   The tired horse was carrying the rider along the narrow path. When the singer came abreast of the hazelnut bushes, where the Kabardins were hiding, they darted out.
   - Hello, Shu! - Pshikan shouted, recognizing the rider. The frightened horse rose to its hind legs. The song stopped.
   - Phoo, shaitans! - cried Chercesogay resentfully. - You frightened my horse! - he pretended to be angry. Dismounting, he embraced them. They went down the ravine. Shu splashed in the stream. Then they shared their meal: the millet cakes, barbecued sun -dried lamb ribs, same Kalmyk tea.
   Only after that Shu begin his story. He said, that Zass' daughter made friends with the Chercesogay church priest, that she comes to the church every week, accompanied by two -three Cossacks. She sits late. The representatives of two prominent Armavir families - Tarasovs and Shah -Nazarovs - agreed to support the kidnapping. All was good, but it was necessary to wait until the Great Old Man departs from Armavir. To kidnap anyone during his visit was impossible.
   - Who is that Old Man? - inquired Dabech. -And why he is called Great?
   - Oh, he is a pride of Chercesogays incarnate, - Barsog interfered. - The monk Karapet Artsivov. He lived many years with our ancestors, propagating the light of Christianity, the teaching of Christ. Karapet is very old, - continued Barsog. At the end of the last century he, a native from Nakhichevan on the Don, became a monk. In 1802 he was sanctified as a deacon by archbishop Efrem. Then by a special decree from Echmiadzin he was granted the san of hieromonk. He was a pilgrim, moving from one aul to the other. He carried neither rifle, nor a dagger. The holy cross was his only weapon. He wedded, christened, baptized Chercesogays, fulfilled other church rites - but the main thing he did was to teach people by word and his own example to confess the Christian religion and to love a neighbor.
   Friends were listening to Barsog, holding their breath. Shu, who knew the story of Karapet, continued:
   - He does not know what illness is, or envy. He does not covet any worldly goods or passions. Spiritual enlightenment is the deed of his life. Even the Moslems respect him. Now Karapet Artsivov is in that same church, "Surb Astvatsatsin" - Holy Mother of God in Armenian - Shu completed the story.
   - We cannot be disrespectful to such a man - consented Dabech - but how long will we have to wait till he departs?
   - Knowing people say two to three days.
   - Then we shall wait. We won't offend the Great Old Man. The God will turn away from us if we do.
   Hagoor together with Arykshoo listened to Shu and came to the same decision.
   But they were not required to wait that long. On the same day, when the koop decided to postpone the date of attack, Karapet left Armavir, since he was in a hurry to get to Ekaterinodar. Ovanes, arriving to the camp with Kushmezu, who waited at the old site, broke the news and hurried them:
   - The daughter of Zass is in the church now and will stay there until tomorrow.
   - What the Russian girl is doing in the Armenian church for so long? -Arykshoo was surprised.
   - She saw Karapet away. She is very friendly with the monk. And now she is a guest of the church priest.
   - Is she a friend of the priest, too? - Arykshoo grew watchful. - Strange friends for such a young girl. Well, well. We also have a shogen in our aul. And she will get on well with him, definitely. He is not a spiteful man.
   The plan of attack on the Armavir aul Hagoor and Arykshoo had at the ready and discussed in details. But Ovanes rejected it outright.
   - We will achieve nothing by force there. We must win by our cunning.
   Chercesogay proposed to move the camp close to Armavir, leaving there the main force. A small band of five people, consisting of Shu, Hagoor, Arykshoo, Dabech and himself - will go to the aul.
   - I wouldn't even take Dabech with me into this affair, but I am afraid, that the young warrior will be offended, if we leave him out.
   - The matter is not in his offence, - Hagoor objected - Will we need him there?
   - Suppress your pride! - whispered Arykshoo in his nephew's ear.
   - No! - answered he in same whisper. - No need to suppress it. Better to direct it for good and useful aims.
   But at that moment Ovanes, after a pause, gave the answer to that question:
   - Yes, we will need him!
   Dabech sighed with relief. The others, knowing the young prince's character, were satisfied, too.
   Only those who do not sleep, know how long is the night. The band was approaching the destined point in a wide trot. The upturned crescent was long in the sky, when abreks reached the place of their new camp.
   - Be ready for the worst, - Hagoor was strict. - Kushmezu will be the senior in this camp. His word is a law for the others.
   Five men continued their way. The night covered the earth. The stars were resting on the black blanket of the sky. Crickets were singing. The earring of the moon's crescent bathed in the waters of Kuban.
   "Will this night shepherd to us a herd of luck? Probably... Malichipkh promised, and she knows everything ahead".
   The Lord continued to throw the armfuls of stars on the sky.
   " Where from He takes so many of them, I wonder?" - Dabech thought.
   By the dawn the small band was near Armavir. The dogs were barking lazily. The Cossack sentries were crying out their night cries to Chercesogay militiamen. The silence was numb. Dabech put a hand on his breast. His heart was beating so loudly, that the youth thought it would betray their position. They dismounted and sat, cowering, in a circle.
   - Shu and me will be close by and will interfere in case of necessity. Hagoor - between us and Arykshoo with Dabech. His task is to cover our retreat. So, the main responsibility is yours - Ovanes looked at the Kabardins.
   The fright subsided. Dabech was counting the beats of his heart and was astonished to notice, that the beat became quiet and even.
   - Well, off you go! - said Ovanes. - Everyone knows his part of the game.
   Arykshoo with Dabech found their place, which was indicated by the Hagoor's friend. It was very close to Kuban, near the road, which led to the wooden bridge, connecting Armavir with the Strong Trench Fort. Kuban, which separated Chercesogays from the Cossacks and the soldiers of the Fort, was swirling its muddy waters. They seemed not very fast, since the river here is wide and quiet. On the right bank the thick reeds, brushwood and sand dunes proliferate. The left bank is steep and wooded. Chercesogays, living here, were the fugitives from the mountain auls. They did not abandon their former way of life and manners, subordinated to those of the Circassians, but, absorbing the military and spiritual culture of the Russians, become more cunning, more careful, and sometimes more nimble, than the Adyghes. Who is closer to the Chercesogay - the Russian soldier or the highlander djigit? The answer is clear. Just look at the gay. He walks around in a dashing Circassian closes, he carries the highlander's weaponry, he rides a Kabardin horse, and he speaks Adyghe language. His customs and food are mainly Circassian. Now judge for yourself - who is more close to him? But when they talk - praise to the Russians! Unbelievable. If it is the truth, why prove it so volubly?
   The aul was awakening. The buffaloes and cows gathered into a herd. The mounted guys were departing to their cordons. The cart wheezed by, driven by a hired Cossack workman.
   The fishermen return from Kuban. Rich is their catch. In the wicker baskets the strong fish is still beating. The Kabardins saw it all, noticed everything, but their eyes were on the road, along which Katherine should go with her guards. They were accustomed to waiting - as the leopard in hunting, as the lynx, waiting for a lamb, as an eagle, looking out for a fox. The sun was already getting hot. Aul got quiet after the morning activity, but the girl was not seen.
   The mounted band of Chercesogays dispersed on a small square, preparing to go home after a night on patrol.
   - Good for us - said Arykshoo.
   - They can interfere with our plans.
   - Wouldn't we be able to do in seven guys ?
   - If a blabbermouth talks and the shortsighted looks, what will be the result? - the voice of the prince was sharp.
   Dabech bit his tongue, offended. But the next moment it all was forgotten. Two horsemen were riding on the dusty road to the bridge: a girl in a Circassian frock ahead, followed by the old Cossack. The distance between them was two horse corpses.
   - You engage the girl - said Arykshoo. - I will catch the Cossack and will move with him in the opposite direction, leading the pursuit away from you.
   When the victims of the abreks leveled with them, the Kabardins jumped out of the ambush. Bundling the prisoners with their lariats, Arykshoo and Dabech dashed in different directions: the young prince - into the thick bushes, which continued to that place, where the main force was waiting for them, and Arykshoo - down the Kuban river. All happened so rapidly and was executed so cleverly, that the rare passers -by did not get the meaning of the happening and peacefully continued their way. Hagoor, seeing it all, couldn't believe in such luck. The old warrior smiled slyly and turned his horse to Shu and Ovanes.
   - The deed is done! - said he. - We can go home now.
   - But we can't! - Chercesogay waved his hand in agitation. - Our hosts will be offended. We have to guest here for a while, and then go.
   Arykshoo was tying the old Cossack to the tree:
   - I do not need you, - he explained. - We were after the girl. Tell the general, that she will be returned. When the time comes.
   Gagging the captive with a rag, prepared for that, the prince went to the camp along the paths, indicated to him.
   After three days the raiders were near the native aul. All this time Katherine did not touch food. Sometimes she drank a gulp of water, threatening them with a horrible punishment.
   - My father will hang all of you! He will tie you to the cannon muzzles and fire, tearing you to pieces! Zass will burn your homes!
   The highlanders did not answer the girl's angry words... When the native aul was in full view, Arykshoo looked into Katherine eyes:
   - I understand you. It is a terrible fate - to lose your freedom. I have never met a man, who did not cherish his freedom. Even the bird, which got into a trap, stops singing. But the just man demands freedom for all, the unjust one - for himself only. You will be free, I promise. Nobody will offend you. And the threats... What evil can Zass do to us he has not done already? Remember, that it is not the punishment, which is a disgrace, it is crime, which is disgraceful. I believe, that when you will be free again, you will understand, that the freedom is the right to do everything, which does not harm other people. You will understand it yourself and will explain it to general Zass, your father.
   The messenger, sent to aul, warned the inhabitants:
   - We have brought the daughter of general Shaitan!
   The aul dwellers left all their business and went out to the square.
   - Shaitan's daughter! Shaitan's daughter! Tear her apart!
   Pago, coming out to meet the troop, raised his whip threateningly:
   - Stop that! Have you forgotten the will of Amysh? And, furthermore, when the Kabardins offended women?
   The mob grew quiet.
   - Bring our guest to my house! - ordered Pago to his brother and his son.
   He said "our guest", and there was something kind, big and just in it...
  
   In the windows of the Suvorov barracks in the N fortress the lamps were extinguished long ago. The few streets of the fortification were sleeping with the unquiet sleep. On the first floor of the Commandant's house the light was burning. Several officers were playing whist. One was the commandant himself, Yefim Yevdokimovich Nazarov. He had luck with the cards tonight and was reluctant to let his officers go, expecting to increase his win. The game rate was meager, but it did not prevent Yefim Yevdokimovich from amassing seventeen silver rubles. The victories on the green felt of the playing table made him forget, that the main victory was to overcome your egotism. His partners were major Petrenko, first lieutenant Volsky from Petersburg, and lieutenant Sineglazov. The last was playing a very careful game and was the only one to keep his money.
   Anastasia Pavlovna was serving coffee. Loosing again, Petrenko shuffled the cards and was ready to deal them, when the door opened, and sleepy Philip, the manservant of Nazarovs, announced:
   - The couriers arrived with the urgent postage.
   Yefim Yevdokimovich played the robber to the end and then left the parlor, asking his wife:
   - Won't you substitute me in this game, dear?
   She consented gladly, but the game lost interest. Everybody glanced on the door, through which the commandant went out, thinking one and the same question: "What happened?"
   What happened was not usual for this fortress. Somebody knocked loudly on the main fortress gates, and it was strange - who would venture to travel through Kabardin lands in this hour of the night? Even in the broad daylight the lone soldiers or Cossacks did not risk to be out of the fortress. Yesaul Kolesnikov, accompanied by two Cossacks from Grebenskaya village has delivered a packet marked "Urgent". Yefim Yevdokimovich opened the packet, read the letter within and was clearly displeased by its contents. Returning to the parlor, he said to his officers:
   - We will have to leave our cards, gentlemen! Abreks kidnapped the daughter of Grigori Hristoforovich.
   The silence fell. It fell, then extended to the corners of the room, then it reached the hearts of those present. Anastasia Pavlovna began to cry:
  -- Oh, what a woe! Kathy, poor girl! What they will do to her now?
   Even if Nazarovs couldn't be called real friends of Zass family, they were very close acquaintances.
   - Ah, those bandits! Those murderers! - commandant was indignant.
   - But how it could happen? What it means -"kidnapped"? - the Petersburg visitor was sincerely astonished. - What about the fortress walls? The patrols?
   - Just like that! - The colonel made a helpless gesture with his arms. - Kidnapped - means stolen! What are the fortress walls or Cossack patrols to them? They can penetrate anywhere. Anywhere they like!
   The officers, taking their caps, were saying good -byes and departing.
   - Tomorrow, tomorrow - repeated commandant.
   Nobody was able to predict what will happen tomorrow. And the colonel was the last to try.
   From the very morning of the next day the reception room of the colonel's office was full. The officers were waiting for some information, but Yefim Yevdokimovich did not receive anybody, thinking over his immediate actions. The officers, knowing the main intrigue, were discussing it noisily.
   - It is done by the Transkubanians, - insisted yesaul Nazarenko. - Ours will never venture to take part in it.
   - But why are you so sure, Mikhail Mikhailovich? The Chechens could do it, and the Avars, let alone the Kabardins, who are easily recognizable here by their cunning, - major Petrenko said.
   - Why are you silent, Andrey Andreyevich? - young warrant officer Yusupov asked captain Maximov. The young officer was reluctant to submit that he was a direct offspring of the famous count's family, but it was not a secret in the fortress.
   - But I am not serving here as a gypsy fortuneteller, my lord. I am a staff captain. We should abstain from judgement until we will be given full details of this case.
   Commandant's adjutant Sinichkin, the favorite of Anastasia Pavlovna, appeared at the doors of the colonel's study to invite the officers:
   - Gentlemen officers, please!
   Nazarov read them a letter, which described the circumstances of Katherine Zass kidnapping in detail; there were also some proposals as to the identification of the malicious criminals and possible ways to liberate the captive.
   There was an avalanche of proposals, all rather absurd. The colonel understood the uselessness of such a discussion. He kept silence, smoking his pipe.
   - Well, that's enough, - uttered he at last. We could discourse in such a way until the next morning. This is an urgent matter. We have to come to definite decisions.
   What do you think of all of this, Andrey Andreyevich?
   - Can't tell much here, - responded the experienced Caucasian.
   - Absolute lawlessness, - began Nazarov, then stopped, making a disgusted gesture.
   - The law is kind to those who kindly apply the law, - answered Maximov.
   - Do you justify the kidnappers? - colonel was infuriated.
   Maximov came close to the colonel and looking into his colorless eyes, said:
   - Abreks do not need the girl. They do not demand ransom for her...
   - What do they want then? What?
   - They want us to wage war by the code. Honestly. Not to trade the heads of the killed Circassians, as Grigori Hristoforovich does.
   - Captain, watch your words! - Commandant was nearly shouting. -You are too... too... It's a mutiny of a kind!
   Maximov, waving his hand disgustedly, turned to the door.
   - Captain, stop! It is an order!. -The commandant's face was purple. - I did not dismiss you yet!
   Standing in the doors, speaking loud and clear, Maximov said:
   - We must send scouts everywhere; promise monetary gratification for any reliable information as to her whereabouts; set a high prize to be paid to anyone, who will personally liberate Katherine Zass. All this must be done immediately. But I am sure of one thing: one hair from the head of that girl will not fall until a single one of those, who engineered the kidnapping, is alive. Anything else will be contrary to their highlanders' code of honor, and they will not allow it.
   Nazarov made a step for reconciliation:
   - There is much reason in your words. Let us proceed with the elaboration of a program. I think that you must head that mission, Andrey Andreyevich!
   "That is a reward to you, stupid old gelding!" - captain scolded himself, returning to the table.
   All proposals of Andrey Andreyevich were implemented immediately. Five hundred rubles in gold were brought from Petersburg - a hundred big five -ruble pure gold coins with the two -headed eagle and emperor's crowns. This was earmarked as remuneration for liberation of Katherine Zass. One hundred golden rubles were promised for the reliable information about her whereabouts. The machine got into action. The scouts were roaming the auls, some adventurous officers were organizing their own expeditions, covering their greed with noble intentions. Many of them thought that the money can do everything and were ready to make everything for the money. But the highlanders kept silence, since all of them knew, what for general Shaitan was punished and because they were rich - they were devoid of greed.
  
   In the Amysh aul the time was circling around the last pole of the day's racing. The days came to weeks, the weeks made months. What our captive was doing?
   She was brought the printed fabrics from Tokat, of Turkish vilayet Sivas, bought for fifteen para* for pik**, linen and woolen pieces twenty halebi*** long from Kadiz, bokassins**** - cotton fabric from Kastambul and Amazia colored by coffee, olive and raspberry hues. Plenty of toropshas***** - felt bonnets! Muslin shawls! Rouge and creams, German wig plaits, morocco soft shoes - red, black, yellow. Silver and golden jewelry was laid to her legs, but in vain! Any highlander
   maiden's heart would soften at a sight of all these gifts. But Katherine Zass was sitting in the corner of her saklia room, silent and indifferent. Though the unaut women, serving her, insisted, that they noted some glances in the direction of the mount of presents.
   Ah, women! Nothing in the world exceeds your beauty! You can defend your freedom by any weapon and surrender unexpectedly to become a slave of love or circumstances.
   The captive girl did not touch food. She drank water, and then the Kalmyk tea, which they gave her instead.
   - Send Dahawos to her - Malichipkh advised. The girl will take food from her.
   The girl entered the room with two lakooms. She sat on her knees in front of Katherine, put one on a plate close to her, the other she began to eat. The Russian girl couldn't bear it any more. She grabbed the crumpet and began to eat hungrily. Dahawos was trying to stop her and to explain, that she had to eat slowly. Finishing one, she asked for more. But the senior women rejected outright:
   - She did not eat for too long! She must eat in small portions now.
   Some warm milk with honey - that was all they permitted to the captive.
   Dahawos with gestures showed her, that she have to drink in small gulps, slowly. Then the girls began to look through the heap of gifts, lying at Katherine's legs.
   Kathy wanted to give most of them to her new friend.
   - Take it! It suits you!
  -- No! It is yours!
   ______________
   * para -Turkish and Egyptian coin of that time
   ** pik - 25 inches
   ***halebi - the length of a woolen cut
   **** bokassins - cotton fabric cuts of different length
  
   - But there is so much of everything! My daddy, Grigori Hristoforovich, would never buy so many presents to me or to mother in all his life!
   Their dialogue in Russian from one side and in Kabardin from the other would seem funny, but one thing. They understood each other!
   That was the beginning of a new life for Katherine. Dahawos also thought, that she is in heaven on the earth.
   They taught each other their languages. One was clever in everyday highlander's life, the other - in refined manners, without which the maiden soul strings will not emit fine chords. Katherine, being German by her origin, absorbed Russian broad soul, mildness and submissiveness of Russian women, their quiet plains' beauty, which was blanketed by fragrance of the steppe, rustle of oak forests, birch orchards.
   Two small human beings, Kathy and Daha have concluded a wordless agreement of love and mutual support. And that treaty was never violated by any of the sides. Either a gift of nature, or German genes of Grigori Hristoforovich were the reason, but Katherine was quick in mastering difficult Kabardin language. Its guttural sounds were becoming natural for her, and what is more important - they became understandable.
   With the flock of girls Kathy went to bring sweet water from the waterfall. Throwing ceramic pitchers on the grass, the girlfriends bathed in invigorating crystal streams. Russian -German Katherine was strikingly different from the flat -chest Kabardin girls, whose figures were as if cut from the thick felt. Bee's waist, high buttocks and heavy breasts with rosy nipples, aroused by cold water, long blonde hair, descending in heavy coils to her waist, scarlet lips...
   "We are lucky Dabech does not see her now" - thought Dahawos. - We have enough trouble with Arykshoo's suffering"
   The girls were splashing in the cascading water, laughing from joy of youth. The youth...How little reason is in that age, and how much joy and happiness! How fresh are the noble feelings!
   Pago collected all the senior aul women. Malichipkh with her unaut girls served the sweets to the assembled matrons: honeycomb, cheesecakes, dried apricots, halvah. For this occasion a real, "sugar tea" was prepared with the tealeaves, bought at the Jew shop near N fortress. The sugar "head" was standing on the table, and the hostess used small tweezers to cut small pieces of sugar from it.
   - I want to ask you, that Russian guest girl will be rendered all the honors, due to our princess. - Pago addressed the women assembled in the parlor. - She must be made to understand and love our way of life and traditions. Accepting us as we are, without false and prejudice. I ask you to relay my words to your daughters and daughters -in -law. Remember, that I especially entrust women with this task. That's it. Now I invite you to treat yourself to the sweets. You are my guests!.
   God knows, what the elder aul women were talking about that day. It was a long talk, and a pleasant tea party. When they were leaving, they got a length of a bokassin fabric each from Malichipkh..
   Kathy was taught weaving and embroidery, making felt carpets and cooking. She learned to sew and make halvah. She was quick to undertake any venture, but tired easily and pouted her pretty lips:
   - I am tired. No more of this!
   Her teachers, experienced housewives, laughed:
   - No, girlie, no barina -beauty*, you can't leave anything unfinished!
   - You will say now, that the Tkha forbids it...
   - Tkha, and the work itself, and our traditions.
  -- Oh, well! Lets finish what we have begun!
   Dahawos was always close by. They ate together, slept together on one sofa, and rejoiced together, had common sorrows. Once Malichipkh, speaking to general's daughter, said:
   - The time has come to give a maiden party in your honor.
   Kathy looked at Dahawos. The girl nodded.
   - Good, nana!** - Kathy agreed.
   It was a gay, colorful and jocular youth's celebration, but with elements of a rite.
   From the very morning the youth of aul gathered to get around. They were to enter every homestead, holding long poles on their shoulders, and shout:
   - We have come to get your hens!
   The housewives, smiling, brought out some hens, cocks, or a turkey with their legs tied, so that it was easy to hang the birds on the poles. Kathy was laughing more then anybody: "Jedheh! Jedheh!***
   Excited, with the eyes, shining with delight, she found only these words.
   - What do we do next? What we will do with all the assembled loot? - she was interested by the ritual game.
   - We will prepare gedlibje, grill chickens and boil turkeys...
   - And then?
   - What do you mean by "then"? We will invite the guys - Kabardin girls explained to Kathy - regale them, and together with them we'll eat what we prepared, sure.
   - I want to be sure, that they will invite Dabech - whispered Kathy to the Daha's ear.
   - Don't worry, he will be there.
   The guys cut the poor birds throats, the girls plucked them clean. The work was gay, fast and noisy. It was accompanied with merry games and jokes. Malichipkh
   approached the youngsters:
   - Usually this kind of celebration is organized for the engagement of young people, but we do it in your honor, our guest.
   - Couldn't I become somebody's bride? - the girl was looking into eyes of Dabech's mother with concern.
   - You sure can, but not before we return you to your father.
   Kathy was provided a separate cauldron to prepare food. She was told to peel
   onions and garlic, to cut finely savoury grass.
   __________________
   *barina - pet name for a young girl
   **Nana -Granny
   *** Jedheh - a ritual game, in which the fowl are sacrificed
  
   - You will do gedlibje - whispered Daha.
   - But I have never done it myself.
   - Anyone has to begin sometime. Do not worry, I will call my mother. - Adiyuh! Adiyuh! Come and help my sister Kathy.
   - She must do it herself to day.
   But she came and gave advise to Kathy:
   - Put butter in the cauldron. When it will be hot, add sliced onions and garlic...
   She helped Katherine to cut the chickens into strictly traditional portions. The girl was a good pupil. And Dahawos was helping, too. Soon Pago's yard, where the improvised kitchen was deployed, was full of appetizing aromas of the best Kabardin dish - chicken boiled in cream.
   - Now add the savoury grass powder - Adiyuh ordered.
   In the neighboring caldron pastah was getting ready. Those free from cooking were dancing and playing games.
   When the food was ready, all were seated at the tables. Kathy looked for Dabech. She was glad to find him. Their eyes met. Dabech diverted his stare. Shoving aside the plate that was standing in front of him, he took the empty one and came to Kathy.
   - Will you treat me to some of your cooking? - his voice was gay.
   - Yes! Of course! But I am not sure that my gedlibje will be to your taste, and the sauce...
   - I will tell you as soon as I try a piece...
   Kathy fished in the caldron with the wooden ladle, selecting the best piece to her taste, and put some white sauce on it.
   - Don' forget to put some red pepper - whispered Dahawos.
   The Russian beauty did so and handed the plate to Dabech.
   - But you must be honest, when you will tell me your opinion on my cooking.
   - Sure will - promised the lad, taking the plate and moving to the opposite end of the long table made of beech tree.
   - Do not stare at him so intently! - said Daha. - Nothing will come of it, anyway. Until you are returned to your father you are a sister to every youth in this aul, and their attitude to you will be strictly brotherly.
   - We shall see what we shall see, - answered Katherine - Brilliant mundane officers were dueling for my mother!
   - So what? Dabech would shoot a hundred such officers for you, but what for? The aul will damn him. His father will disown him. His mother will never forgive.
   Kathy shoved the plate from her.
   - That is also silly. - Dahawos shook her head. - If you will not eat, you will become thin and ugly. Who will want such a wife?
   They laughed. The youth cannot be sad for a long time. The present is always carefree, and the future is always bright.
   The aul dwellers were going to name her in an Adyghe way. They couldn't pronounce the Russian sounds of her name properly. But Pago objected:
   - That would be very silly. We have deprived her of freedom. Let us leave her name at least. Now the locals were pronouncing her name in their way: "Kateh. The girl laughed first, then got used to it: "Well, let it be Kateh!"
   She was interested in many aspects of the everyday life of the highlanders. Their children's games, for instance. They were wonderful! They demanded cleverness and aptitude and were full of useful information. Soon she took some tiny tot and, sitting him in her lap, was drawing lines on a small palm, reciting:
   - Here the lambs graze, white and fluffy on a green meadow. Many flowers on it - blue, red, white. The eagle sees the lambs from the sky. It wants to dive suddenly on the herd ant grab one of the lambs. But here a strong he -goat stands with sharp horns. He is the father of the lambs and guards them vigilantly. He will gore the eagle so! And so again! And again! - Showing with her fingers, how it will happen. The baby was shrieking with laughter, and Kathy continued: - And the shepherd is also on his guard. He has a rifle. And a very big shepherd dog. How the dog barks?
   The tiny tot tried to imitate the barking of the great shepherd dog in his small voice, and they laughed together. Taking his other palm, she continued:
   - Here our guests arrived. And we meet them at the gates, tether their horses, show them to the guest parlor, and serve them dinner. She listed the food, which was served on the three -legged small tables and counted his fingers. Putting her finger to the boy's small finger, she said: - and here is our porridge, too! Serve us quickly with the pastah and cream, please!
   During long rural evenings, when the youth gathered, they often sang songs. Sometimes there were "singing duels". Once she managed to challenge Dabech.
  
   With all my heart I strive to you
   The day is dark without you
   There is no road without you,
   What can you do,
   That I couldn't do?
  
   Dabech was going to address these words to Daduh. They said that he was courting her and the girl was head over ears in love. But Kathy, pushed by Dahawos, came into the circle suddenly and answered to Dabech, singing:
  
   If I turn to be a white dove
   I will fly away from you, lad
   What you'll do to get me back,
   What will you, oh, what you'll do?
  
   The participants with admiration met her sudden improvisation. The young people were now looking at Dabech, waiting for his answer. The young prince looked fleetingly at Daduh, standing there with her pretty lips pouted, and, turning to his Armavir captive, he sang:
  
   If by magic you will turn to be a dove
   Then by magic I will turn to be a hawk
   I will follow you to find my dove in skies
   Or on the earth, or even under, save God.
   I will follow just to be closer to you,
   What will you answer, if I do that to you?
  
   - What will you want me to do, silly? I love you! - whispered Katherine in Russian - and that is my answer!
   She really fell in love with Bech. All those polished officers from the fortress or from Petersburg could not compare with him. Katherine found much beauty and nobility in this young, strong and decisive warrior. That was her first love, but she did not hide her feelings. Neither was she ashamed of them.
   - You stole me, now you must love me - said she to Dabech once. -That's your custom.
   But Dabech did not leave any hope to her:
   - You are my sister - he said that, looking into her beautiful eyes.
   They did not meet long after that. Dabech led a koop in a raid. Kathy went to Malichipkh:
   - Tell my fortune, nana.
   - He is alive, - Dabech's mother told her. - He is thinking about you, and he loves you. If you want to become a wife to him, wait till you return to your father.
   - And what will happen then?
   - It will be useless to propose to you, because general Shaitan will never consent to marry his daughter to the Kabardin prince.
   - Why are you so sure?
   - He spilled too much Kabardin blood. How will he take a Kabardin grandson in his bloody hands?
   - Then I will flee. Or Dabech will kidnap me once more.
   - Oh well! It will take a long of time.
   - But how long, nanny? Do you know? Tell me!
   - About a year, baby. But do not lose your spirit whatever happens. Humans always exaggerate their unhappiness.
   Dahawos was at the side of her girlfriend day and night. Once she said to Kathy:
   - Look, there, above the mountain, there is a fog. But the sun will rise and it will vanish. So will your worries.
   One sleepless night Katherine remembered the words of Pythagore, whose maxims she loved: "The cup of life would be sweet to nausea if so many bitter tears were not dropping in".
   "Sure, - thought Kathy - there are enough of bitter rears".
   To cheer her up, the girls took the Russian general's daughter with them to a small gorge not far from aul. Standing at its entrance, one of them shouted:
   - Echo! Echo! Tell my fortune!
   - Fortune! - echo clearly responded
   - Am I beautiful?
   - Beautiful!
   - Will I be courted by many pretenders?
   - Pretenders!
   - Will one of them be the best?
   - Best!
   - The bravest!
   - Bravest!
   - Djigit!
   - Djigit!
   - Is it true or is it a lie?
   - A lie!
   - Now you try, said they to Katherine.
   She complied, but changed the order of the words in the last question. The result was met with a burst of laughter. But it was not enough to dispel Kathy's anguish. Soon she falls ill. Delirious from fever, she thrashed about the sofa, calling Dabech. Dahawos became thin with anxiety. Malichipkh, usually so sure and calm, was seriously alarmed. She treated the sick girl with her medicinal decoctions.
  
   At that time Dabech with his koop was raiding Persia. Traveling along the banks of Hazas, the band of Kabardins from time to time stormed prosperous Persian cities in quest for gold, slaves and horses, and then returned into the desert under protection of Kurds and wondering Turkmen. Once Bech kidnapped the daughter of the ruler of Tebriz. Next raid he kidnapped the ruler's brother.
   - Friends and foes must be judged by equal measure - smirked the abreks, sitting in the Kurds camp at the fire with caldron of boiling lamb over it.
   Ambushes were set to get Dabech, but someone warned the Circassian beforehand.
   - He is prone to the bullet and the blade - hoped his friends.
   That day Dabech drove a herd of the good horses to the Turkmen. It was rumored, that the herd belongs to the Shah, that he is an Arabian by birth, and that the horses were among the best in the world. But Dabech was not among those, who admired the animals, perfect as a moon. He brought the young Budur, daughter of a Meregess merchant from the shores of Urmia, to his Turkmen tent, smelling of hot wind and smoke from the desert tumbleweed fires. He was kissing the Persian girl's nipples, fit to burst of passion. The night spread the black hair of Budur on the pillow, her lips parted to meet the lips of abrek, like the blossom turns to sun to become a flower. Dabech seemed to fly on the fairy mare without stirrups or a bridle over an abyss. And thousands of horses were riding side by side with him in the skies. Tired of love and loving, he fell asleep in the embrace of the Persian.
   He dreamt of a mountain rain. And then, the rainbow on the hill suddenly turned into a horseman.
   "Why, it's me, - thought Dabech in his dream. - And that aul below is my aul".
   The thunder rumbled and it became quiet. Dabech knew that he was dreaming. The mountains were asleep, the forest pensive, the people and beasts quiet.
   The horse took him to the summit of the high hill. He felt sad somehow. Suddenly Dabech saw the alpine meadow full of flowers. The red poppies nodded in the wind. The bumblebee was sleeping in one of them. Then he saw Terek with heavy black water. The pheasant cock was crying in the forest as if he just created the world. His horse stumbled heavily. Dabech uttered a cry, trembled, like a string, and woke up.
   "Get up, you have urgent business to attend to at home" - the voice was coming from the morning desert.
   Soon the koop assembled around his tent. The unknown postman already informed them that Kathy is sick, that she calls Dabech in her raving delirium, and that Pago wants them back.
   He remembered his conversation with the girl. His refusal to call her his love. The pleading eyes.
   The koop comrades saddled two best horses, which knew the way home. Shawei, the senior by his age, opened the saddlebag and each of abreks put a handful of golden coins into it from his own share. Some coins fell on the sand, but nobody bent to pick them up. These people never knew, or never wanted to know the real price of gold or burning coldness of a steel blade.
   Dabech was already in his saddle, when the Persian girl, understanding that this is the end of her short love, threw herself in front of his horse. The indignant karagoz stood on his hind legs, trembling and beating the air with his front legs.
   - Wed her to the best Turkmen warrior, - Dabech ordered. - Set her dowry to be equal of one third of our loot from one raid!
   - Let the great Tkha save and protect you on your way and help you in your just deeds!
   The guides took him to the desert, and he melted in the sands, as the sun melts, setting behind the desert dune.
   The spring went away from the mountain valleys, when Dabech appeared on the banks of Terek. The people ware busy in the fields.
   "People like their occupation too much" - thought abrek.
   Several days ago he nearly lost his life in the steppe. The highwaymen warned him: "There will be a storm. You will find shelter in the cabin of the melon -garden guardian". He gave them some golden coins: "Find a shelter for yourself. The time is beating in my heart". They gave him some dried and salted mutton, fried millet flour and he went his way. His horse saved him from a sure death, taking him out of Terek, the water of which the wind seemed to blow away.
   "No peace anywhere" - thought abrek, without any joy or surprise at his salvation. He did not ever think about possible death.
   He was riding along a lively valley and groundless joy, overcoming his sadness filled him. The clouds were floating in the sky, the wind was whispering in the mulberry trees of ancient Julat.* The woodpecker noisily pecked at an apple tree. The heron walked along the bank of Terek, swaggering. High among the clouds the larks were singing. The road to native aul was running ahead, as a tear on a cheek.
   The coolness of the Terek was behind. Above him the fog was rising from the mountain forest as sour dough from a basin.
   "May be Kathy was my sister in my previous life" - thought Dabech. He heard a distant voice of a cuckoo.
   "How many years the God will give me, cuckoo?"
   The bird was cuckooing without stop and Bech lost his count. The cry of the lone pheasant cock silenced the cuckoo. The birds were continuing a long discussion, sitting in the sun. And the woodpecker didn't want to stop.
   Then Dabech traveled upstream. The river was more and more angry with every mile. The gorge met him with the invigorating coolness. His horse guessing
   that they are close to their home, fastened his trot. They passed the abandoned aul, where the weeds were growing and old watchtower was uselessly standing on the rock. Mysterious and still threatening, it was blanketed in the fog and silence. At last, the travelers smelt the fireplace smoke of the Amysh aul.
   "Well, I am home at last. How Kateh is? Bad, I think, or else Pago wouldn't call me home".
   Dahawos, seeing her uncle, ran to the saklia.
   - Bech returned!
   Malichipkh calmed him:
   - The worst is over. I treated her with my magic herbs. She is quiet now.
   They met on the next day. Dabech was rather formal in the crimson Circassian frock coat, precious weaponry and gray astrakhan high hat.
   - Bech, -said Kathy in a weak voice.- Thank great Tkha for saving you in the raid!
   ________________________________
   *Julat - an ancient city, the ruins of which can be seen in Kabardin -Balkar Republic.
  
   - Thank Marissa, that I see you in good health and more beautiful than ever.
   Dabech has brought to Katherine a thin Turkish scimitar in golden scabbard, about the length of a Circassian dagger. Embellished with diamonds, emeralds and pearls, it was splendid.
   - What a beauty! -the girl couldn't help a delighted scream.
   - It belonged to the ruler of Tebriz - said Bech, as if speaking about a length of silk, bought at the Kaffa bazaar.
   The girl was enjoying the filigree of a jeweler, who created this masterpiece.
   - It is not the precious stones and gold, which are so valuable in this dagger. And not even the smith's skill, which is superb.
   - What, then?
   The warrior took the blade from the scabbard. The blue steel of a bent blade shined.
   - Only the armament smiths of Dai Viet can make weapons of such steel. Nobody else. This steel cuts the iron and silk alike.
   He took Kathy's chiffon kerchief and threw it on the blade. The kerchief, cut in two, fell on the floor.
   The girl sighed: - My kerchief!
   Bech smiled: - I will buy you a hundred of those.
   - No, return me only one. And tell me please: what did you bring for Dahawos?
   Abrek was confused. He did not think about a present to his nephew. He got under his frock coat and took out a large pin.
   - I think to present this to her.
   Kathy was looking at a wonderful piece of jewelry. The pin was done from a big ring. The rosy diamond of a soft hue was in the center of two coils of small diamonds.
   - Do you think my nephew will like my gift?
   Kathy understood, that the price of this pin would be enough to buy a whole manor in Russia, with a village, forests and meadows.
   - This thing has only one flaw, - said the girl.
   - What is it?
   - It cannot see itself, and therefore it cannot be delighted as I am, seeing it.
   - Daha! Daha! Come and see what Bech has brought for you! - she called her friend.
   Katherine was a good teacher for Dahawos. She was able to teach the girl the basics of her German, English, French and Russian with the skill of the best governess. The days and the months passed. After more than two years of such training Dahawos noticed, that she was sometimes thinking in the terms of these languages. She did not like German.
   - It is rude - said she.
   - Oh, come, your Kabardin is not a nightingale's twitter, too - answered russified German Katherine Zass. And she teased Daha, imitating the guttural sounds of Kabardin language: - kh, tkha, dji, bzhe... fit to break your tongue!
   The girls laughed, and the lessons continued.
   - Order them to bring us more books in German, English, Russian and French -Katherine asked Pago. He perceived her request quite seriously. Being a warrior, he somehow understood the greatness, contained in the writings.
   - The book is the wisdom of multitude, collected in one volume. It is a pleasure, it is a joy. I dream, that some time will come, when all the children of our aul, all Kabardin children will be able to read.
   - But the books are different, - Kathy said. - Some are good, some not so good and some are even bad.
   - I will send my people to the mountain Jews, which live at the walls of the N fortress, and order them to buy for you such books, which would contain perceptive observations, cleverness of mind and a sensitive heart.
   Kathy was impressed by prince's wisdom. Living in a faraway aul, he was thinking like a good schoolmaster.
   Pago continued:
   - I think, that the good books must carry all the experience, accumulated by clever people. It must rescue from loneliness and self -indulgence.
   - Yes, you are right - Kathy agreed.
   - Like merchant caravans, it must cross the borders of the kingdoms, bring a man to the shores of the faraway seas...
   - Like the migratory birds, -continued Kathy his thought, looking at him with shining eyes - carry on their wings friendship, fraternity, and love...
   - They are like a sun - concluded Pago.
   Soon the Tats appeared on the streets of the aul. They were steering a whole caravan of mules, loaded with books.
   - They have brought us clever thoughts - said Pago simply.
   Many days Kathy and Daha were sorting out their treasures. What books they were! The Renaissance poets, great Greeks, famous French writers... Euripidus, Sophocles and Eshilles, Dante, Diderot and Voltaire... Especial joy for Kathy was to find a book of Goethe's poems. There were encyclopedias and atlases, spiritual books and collections of Russian poets and prose writers.
   - We will teach the aul children - decided Kathy.
   Pago was glad to hear that idea. A spacious saklia was built, big enough to sit several dozens of boys and girls.
   - Teach them Russian language - ordered Pago. - Our future is inseparable.
   - What about this war?
   - All wars come to an end some time. The time will come and our women will borrow flour sieves from one another.
   Kathy did not get the meaning of his last utterance and later, when they were alone, asked Dahawos:
   - What Pago meant? The sieve... It is for sifting flour, isn't it?
   - This is our old Kabardin proverb. It means, that the people will be living in peace, and one neighbor woman will find a reason to visit another, under the pretence that her own sieve is torn, and she has to prepare dough for lakooms or bread.
   Kathy learned much from Kabardins. Mastering their language, she was now learning the intricacies of their everyday life. It was a severe and simple life, so different from the life of her acquaintances in Petersburg or in their manor, or in Strong Trench Fort.
   - You, the Kabardins, are like the water in the mountain stream - clear, transparent, sound. It is not possible to quench your thirst from such stream, rain or shine.
   - Mountain stream may be muddy, too, my daughter, - responded Pago.
   - The mud settles down rapidly, and the water again becomes transparent, like a tear.
   - Better it be like dew.
   The prince loved Kathy not less, than he loved his own daughter Adiyuh, may be even more in some ways. He pitied her, he shared her joy and her woe. Pago never narrated any fairy tales to his own children. But once Kathy and Daha caught him. They were sitting at the fireplace on big red morocco skin pillows. Pago brought soft fur blankets and wrapped the girls so, that only their faces with wide -awake eyes were visible from under the rich fur. The fire was low in the fireplace, with a thick stem of a tree, bent like a giant snake, was smoldering in the depth, smelling sweet.
   - Dada, why don't you ever tell us fairy tales? -asked Kathy. And there was so much hope and plea in her voice, that the prince's heart softened, quivering, like a fire in a fireplace.
   - You never asked me to, barina, - said he in bewilderment.
   - May be I did not. But I do now.
   - But I don't know any fairy tales. I forgot those, told me by my nana long ago, and life is a very sad a tale. So sad, that any reality is less cruel.
   - Tell us a tale, anyway.
   Pago pretended to put the log in the fireplace lengthwise with the fire irons, trying to recollect any story fit for two teenage girls, but failed. Then, sighing heavily, he said:
   - I better sing you a song, if you like.
   - Can you sing?
   - All people can sing, but not all of them are aware of it.
   - We also?
   - You, too. Shall I?
   - We are listening, dada.
   He began to sing. His song beat against the walls and ceiling, converged with the fire in the fireplace, burning together with the oak wood, emitting a fragrance of the unknown for Dahawos and Katherine. The voice of Pago was transparent and clear. "Like water in our secret lake - thought the girl. Like the water and the blue sky in early autumn. No! Like the starry night in winter. Yes, sure, like a starry sky".
   Pago was singing:
   "The hunter lived in mountains. He was devoid of tiredness, he never knew what fear is. He read the animal trails as if Yemysh* himself was leading him by hand. He could tell the weather by the smell of the wind, he knew the road home by the stars in the sky. He was never rich. he had the only one treasure - a long -barrel rifle, embellished with pearls, gold and silver..."
   - But it is your rifle, Pago! - Dahawos shouted. - It is hanging there, with the other weapons!
   But Pago did not pay attention to her words. His song continued to flow, like the river in the gorge:
   "His sight was like the eagle's, his carriage like the leopard, his manners resembled a lynx. He lived in the mountains for many years, but nobody remembered his bullet go amiss, not killing the animal outright.
   He went to hunt one day. From dawn to dusk he roamed the mountain paths in vain, wondering that they are especially tangled today. Here is the bear's footprint, and there two chamois passed quietly. The lynx was waiting for a victim behind
   ___________________
   Yemysh - (Amysh) - the god of hunting, protector of animals
   this rock. Wild boars went down to the hazelnut bushes. Plenty of boars. The
   hunter kneeled to touch the trace of a mountain leopard - irbis. A rare animal. He noticed no one mountain goat today. The eagles were floating in the sky. They were telling him something. The hunter stopped expectantly. He decided to put his rifle in the holster, when he saw a white she -goat on the rock, illuminated by the giant setting sun. He never shot she -goats. "Let them bear lambs" - thought he. But to day he aimed and fired his rifle, which never missed. The white goat fell. The hunter went to the rock to retrieve the animal, but the goat was not there. He found only several drops of blood.
   And he heard a sad voice, coming from afar:
   - You would better abstain from that shot, hunter. Who will bear white lambs in the spring now?
   From that day the hunter knew no luck. His shots were all amiss. Infuriated, he broke his rifle, beating it against the rock. People still find pieces of gold, silver and pearls there. And the hunter threw himself into the precipice."
   - Wow! But he will kill himself, falling from that height! How evil you are, dada!
   - No, he did not. The wings saved him. He became an eagle. Since that time no one hunter shoots a white mountain goat.
   In the night Dahawos saw a white goat in her dream.
   "The life is not measured by its length, - said the mountain goat with a human voice. - Even the caravan trail, passing through many countries, cannot be the measure. The depth is the measure... Remember, girlie: the depth only!"
   The white she -goat will often visit her dreams. But at that time she did not know this yet. And, waking up in the morning, she asked Kathy as soon as she opened her eyes:
   - The depth. What is it?
   Next time the prince told the girls, how the dwellers of Amysh aul and the people from the neighboring one became brothers and sisters. Amysh was a small boy then, but he remembered the ritual and told Pago and Arykshoo about it.
   The inhabitants of the two villages gathered in a certain valley. They stood opposite each other. One most respectable man from one side and most respectable woman from the other came out. The man touched the naked bosom of the woman with his lips and pronounced: "From this day I am your son!" Then the woman and the man changed and at last the other inhabitants repeated the procedure, giving the same oath.
   - How interesting! - the girls were enchanted by the ancient custom.
   In the evening, when they were alone, Kathy said to Daha:
   - How wonderful it would be, if I were living in another aul, and Dabech would come and kiss my breast!
   - Silly! It is Tkha's tradition. Do not blaspheme.
   Katherine went to Malichipkh. Dahawos, lying alone on the sofa, covered with furs, seemed to fly around the room. She saw the room as if from under the ceiling. Looking down, she saw the fireplace, the felt carpets on the walls, the iron -plated chest in the corner, the reed mats on the floor. And herself, lying on the soft deerskins. The girl circled the saklia for a long time, before she ventured to fly outside, to the blue sky and to the clouds. Oh, great Tkha! How wonderful is this world from the height of eagle's flight! She saw the fields, the gardens, and the gorge, and the native aul. The wind was lifting her higher and higher. Sometimes she pierced the clouds to get to the clear blue sky. Suddenly she saw Malichipkh, who was flying in a white dress beside her. Her long hair was washing in the wind.
   - Do not dare to fly so far! - shouted she. - Return home! Immediately!
   Dahawos did not want to return to the saklia, but she obeyed her granny. She folded her arms like wings, and soon was lying on the soft furs on the sofa.
   "What was it? - the girl asked herself, but could not find the answer.
   It repeated pretty often. And each time Malichipkh returned her home.
   - Nana, -asked her the girl - where we are flying to?
   - I wish you would stop it. Once I will not manage to get to you in time. If some other business will divert my attention, you will not return to the Earth.
   Dahawos did not understand anything she said. But the flights continued. Every time she was returning back at Malichipkh's express orders.
   Kathy and Dahawos asked Akunda, Adiyuh's mother -in law, to tell them their fortunes. She was considered one of the best fortunetellers on the Terek banks. But Akunda declined:
   - Have patience. The time will come and the destined things will happen.
   - I am afraid only of those things, of which I know nothing. If you will foretell me what is in waiting for me, I will not fear anything.
   - You are too young - Akunda said - and your dreams are higher then the snow - covered summits. How can I raise higher, then Oshkhamaho?
   - But Nana, please, - Dahawos pressed her father's mother - please!
   At last, when they were sitting at the hearth once, looking on the tongues of flame, Akunda said to her granddaughter:
   - Bring me that leather pouch! No, not that! That one, lying on the chest.
   Daha handed her the red leather pouch, tied with the string.
   - Let the wood in the hearth burn to coals - said the fortuneteller.
   The fire was dying slowly. First the high flames reduced to the low ones. Then they also began to die out, turning into hot coals. With the help of the long fire irons Akunda placed the coals fit for her divination.
   - At a fire, at one fire the families gathered - chanted she - and the families gathered into auls. And the messengers, before they appear before the Ruler of the Golden Horde, had to go between two purifying fires.
   - What are you saying all this for, nanny? - asked Kathy - what relation it has to our fortune telling?
   - You must know about the strength and the purity of fire.
   She untied the pouch and took out a pinch of poppy grains and threw them on hot coals. Light transparent fumes rose into the flue.
   - Kateh, you have a straight and clear road ahead of you. This road will take you far, very far from our aul, and from the fortress of general Shaitan. You will leave your native country to live peacefully in some very faraway place.
   - What about Dabech? Will he be together with me in that peaceful and marvelous life?
   - The poppy smoke can say nothing about that.
   - What about my future? - asked Dahawos.
   Akunda took another pinch of poppy seeds and threw it on the coals. Thick black smoke choked the fireplace flue. Akunda shoved the coals in the fireplace with the iron tongs and said:
   -I did not want to divine your future.
   Shaking her head, she went away.
   Kathy, living in Amysh aul, saw, that all the aul dwellers were very close. Helping and supporting each other was obligatory. And only beyond the aul bounds the other world began. Sometimes hostile, but always alien. That is why the traditions of atalyks and koonaks were of primary importance. They were the only external ties between people, families, clans, auls.
   Friendship was of special importance. From the native aul or from a faraway village, once a friend, you were to preserve that bond all your life. As the Scythes Dandamis and Azimok, who mixed their blood in a cup, put there the tips of their arrows and swords, and drank that cup of oath to be lifelong friends.
   The girl frequented the youths gatherings, took part in celebrations. She was a good dancer on weddings and celebrations for newly born sons.
   - Why they celebrate the birth of a son and never celebrate the birth of a girl?
   - The boys are future warriors, defenders of Motherland - Adiyuh answered.
   - The men defend us not only from the foes, but also from the strikes of ill fortune - said Malichipkh.
   - Like what?
   - Hurricane, wild beast, snow storm. Examples are aplenty. The men commit famous exploits. The woman will not bend under the strikes of ill fortune, if a strong, kind and just man is at her side.
   Kathy saw, that the valor of the highlanders was not a show -off. Gallantry was a duty, not a feat. That was the way to live and the way to die. But most of all Kathy was astonished to see, that the men of Amysh aul were not discouraged by a defeat.
   - Why, before taking any decision, even the simplest one, you discuss the matter in your Haseh? - Kathy asked Dabech.
   The lad shrugged his shoulders:
   - Unthinking heroism is cowardice of a kind. To avoid mistakes is the main aim of the aul council.
   According to traditions, the women seldom spoke to Pago. He was considered above daily routine. Not unless Pago would ask his daughter, or daughter -in law, or any guest woman a question. Only Katherine during third year of her stay was granted such privilege. The girl was showering the prince with her questions, and nearly every one of them began with: "But why...".
   - They say, that we, the Adyghes, enslave our women - once said Pago to Kathy.
   She was silent.
   - Have you noticed anything of that sort here? I don't think so. No one of us - neither a singer, nor a warrior, neither a ploughman, nor a shepherd - will live a deserving life without the affection of his woman. We are fond of our guashas* and respect them. We seek from them not only comfort, but also inspiration. We behave with dignity beside a woman.
   - I know - answered the captive - I am convinced in that
   - All the best in this world comes from woman - the song, the feat, the pleasurable labor - continued the prince.
   Little by little the local population taught Kathy to understand their concept of love and respect. And those feelings inspired dignity and pride. Pride for yourself, pride for your guest. Even respect for your enemy.
   Once Dahawos and Katherine were talking of Kabardin traditions and customs.
   - There are many things I do not understand - said Kathy. - But these __________________________
   * guasha - here: spouse
  
   incomprehensible things are not repulsing. They are attractive.
   She continued this theme with Pago.
   - We have our own customs, traditions and code of honor, Habze. We do not take it from the other nations. We live in our own way. But we never negate anything good the other nations have.
   - My father, Grigori Hristoforovich, said that you have a proverb: "Alien custom is good but for a week".
   - I have not met your father. What you said about one week... Well, it happens... Sometimes it's good for a week, but sometimes the alien custom do not suit us at all. Our Habze was not approved by voting in the Haseh. The life compiled it, scruple by scruple. And like a woman sifts the flour through the sieve, our customs sift through the centuries and hard tests.
   - And the flour is pure from bran?
   - Yes, only the best survives. The bread from such flour will be superb.
   - What if the bread will be taken too early from the pan, still unbaked.
   - Our customs are such, that they prevent haste. Our Habze cannot be raw. The time already put all the accents right.
   - What you consider to be the basic principle?
   - The ability to sacrifice personal interests in the interest of your nation and your Motherland.
   - Aren't these only pompous words?
   - No, my daughter, it is a law by which we live daily.
   Cognizing the life of Kabardins, Kathy noticed, that parents avoided their children to be praised in their presence. It was unthinkable. Only Kathy was an exception from that rule. She was a pet. And all aul were her teachers and parents.
   The children were taught to work from small age. If a child succeeded in something, they did not spare their praise. Nothing was said in case of failure. Children were taught to keep their word from the young age. Beware, if you lied or failed to keep a promise. But most of all Kathy liked the highlander's attitude to the elders. She soon got a habit to do good to the old people, to stand up, when an elder appeared, to fulfill their every request.
   - Nana, - asked she once, - why you do not punish a capricious child, when it cries and shows bad character?
   - But it is useless!. You first have to wait till the child calms down. Then is the time to scold him or shame him.
   A severe punishment was waiting a thief and a liar.
   - But what about your raids? Isn't it thieving? - Kathy was surprised.
   - That's entirely different. It is our work. Our risk. Often we pay our lives for what we get in those raids - explained Dabech.
   - Are you afraid of something? - she asked Bech.
   - But of course! Is it possible to be alive and fearless?
   - What, for instance?
   - I fear, that my mother will hear about something bad I have done, that I stampeded from my enemies, or offended an old woman or a child. The man, who is able to offend his mother, has nothing sacred in his heart. He is not human.
   Dahawos and Katherine persuaded Pago's sons to teach them riding, firing and swordplay. Their request was reported to Pago. He nodded silently. It was enough to begin their training and soon they turned into rakish Amazons. They rode thoroughbreds, fired rifles and cut ivy sticks with shashka at full gallop... Kathy was not satisfied: " I want to master horseback acrobatics, like Dabech."
   - Nobody in our aul rides as Dabech does! - people tried to reason with her. But she was persistent. Dabech was working hard with her, and the Russian girl proved to have stamina.
   - A devil in woman's clothes! - laughed Bech.
   Very soon Kathy was able to make wonders on her snow -white mare Bzu.* Daha was not behind her elder girlfriend. Her white mare Bzhe* could be proud of her rider. Daha learned quicker and easier. Probably her blood and genes influenced ___________________
   *bzu - a bird
   ** bzhe - a bee
   her behavior. As always, beginning was the most difficult part of it all.
   - Good began is half done - said Bech.
   His brothers assured the girls:
   - No, Bech is not right. A good beginning is far more, then the half.
   Now Kathy and Dahawos rarely could be found at home. On the outskirts of the village the girls competed with the local warriors in sharp shooting, horsemanship, knack and dexterity. When once Kathy fell from her horse and hurt herself, the first thing she did when she was able to walk was to go to her horse. She touched lovingly her clever head, kissed her and asked her pardon for not being able to keep herself in the saddle.
   Pago came to see the girls' progress.
   - Do not hurry. What is done in a hurry will not live long. Perfection will be your reward.
   When the aul was celebrating the birth of a son to Pataraz, a close friend of Pago, everything was done as usual. The caldrons with lamb meat were boiling in the square, and makhsyma was foaming in cups, and red cheese was tied to the end of a high pole - a prize for the deftest boy. But the final was the race around the aul. And that was the main event. This time it promised to be not only interesting, but also unique, since by prince's special order Kathy and Daha were included into the list of pretenders.
   - Let the djigits keep their high hats on!* - was Pago's commandment.
   - What he meant by that? - asked djigits, addressing Arykshoo and Dabech.
   - He said, what he wanted to say.
   More than four dozens of riders gathered at the start to compete for the title of the best and the luckiest. Kathy and Daha were among them in white Circassian frock coats and on white mares, more Arabian, than Kabardin. The riders were to make two ellipses each about a mile long. Up to the middle of the distance the girls were in the center. It was hard to get into the leading group. Their white mares
   _________________
   * to keep one's hat on, or not to loose one's face - idioms of the Adyghe language - to behave with dignity
   tried hard, tight as a string, their breath wheezing. They were doing their best, but Dabech with his brothers Badynoko, Kaitsuk, Nasren, Panuko, Khamish and their junior Jelihstan were getting more and more ahead. Kathy was furious, the blood rushed in her face.
   "What is it? Shall I loose this race?"
   She whipped her mare. Then again and again. Bzu could not bear such an insult. She darted forward, got into the leading group. Daha was close by on her Bzhe. And at this moment everything changed. At Dabech's signal the brothers held their horses, and the girls overtook them. The victory was at hand. All the other participants also held their horses. The finishing line was close. At this moment the girls suddenly stood up high on the saddles, and, putting their hands on each other's shoulder, crossed the line. All inhabitants of aul were amazed. Hundreds of people surrounded the excited girls. Everyone wanted to express their delight, to touch them.
   - Kateh, - Dabech approached one of the winners - you were magnificent. To win such a competition is a great honor!
   Katherine lifted her excited eyes to face him. They were incredibly blue.
   - Will you always yield me? Or you decided to play giveaway checkers with this one victory only?
   - You and Daha really won the race!
   - Everyone must be a winner in his business. Great Publius Terentius said: "Since you can not do everything you like, wish to do only what you can do well". Daha and me will not participate in such a race any more. We are satisfied, because today we understood, that we could join your party in time of need.
   - I do not know Publius, - said Dabech, - but I am ready to enlist you to my band.
   Malichipkh scolded them for their infatuation with martial games.
   - A woman, who wants to behave like a man is ugly, - growled she. - Finesse, softness, plasticity are woman's weapons. And she seated them to knitting, encouraged their participation in the singing competitions and dancing at the weddings.
   -Pago laughed: - Do not worry. Those are teenagers' tricks. They will marry and forget about races and arrow shooting.
   The time passed.
  
   That spring Psebyda was appointed by Haseh to be a tkhamade* at the plowing. The oldster took the mission entrusted to him with understanding and gratitude. He sent his grandsons to get round to all the aul homesteads:
   - You will call Khafitsa to me. He will be my crier.
   - You will call Pat - ordered he to the other grandson. - He will be my manager.
   He appointed an assistant, a smith, and ajegafa.** When all appointed people gathered, Psebyda ordered to his daughters -in law to serve a table. He treated them to ample lunch, then said:
   - We will be responsible for this spring's plowing. It means, that the future harvest partly depends on our success. And that harvest is the aul's prosperity.
   Those assembled, mostly young people, were listening to Psebyda intently, showing their respect.
   - You - said he to Pat - will be responsible for all supply and delivery. Khafitsa will announce to the brigades about their timetable: commencement, lunch, completion: the notifications may be varied. The business of the ajegafa is to make people merry, then they will not feel so tired. The smith will be about his usual business - repairing the ploughs, ploughshares and so on.
   - And what will be my mission? - Alchik, who was appointed the role of the senior's assistant, was the youngest of all the invited people and was worried, that he is forgotten.
   - Do not worry, sonny. You will have a lot to do. May be more, than the others.
   ____________________
   *tkhamade - a senior in any business or a celebration, appointed for his age, experience or high social position
   * * ajegafa - a jester, a joker
   All the week the plowmen were preparing for the great task. On the eve the oxen were brought close to the fields, which were to be ploughed. Four pairs of them were to pull one plow.
   Women prepared food for the workmen. Nobody was scrimpy on such a day. All the best in the house was given to the breadwinners - cottage cheese and cream in ceramic pitchers, booze, butter, honey, and salted mutton. Mutton brisket was considered a special treat.
   On the eve of the plowing day Psebyda went to shogen.
   - Bless us tomorrow morning, at the time of dawn - he asked.
   Shogen nodded silently. Then said:
   - And I will pray for you this night. I will also invite the molla. There are Moslems among you.
   - That is good, - said the oldster, turning to go to the prince.
   Pago was waiting for tkhamada.
   - I have come, the son of Amysh, to hear your suggestions.
   - Let your deed be kind and lucky! Let it be good and holy - the prince was saying. Take from my herd as many sheep as will be ample to feed the plowmen and all peasants. After the completion of plowing bring kabak* to my yard.
   - It does not suit your high position.
   - Everybody eat bread and pastah. And the land tilling is our common care.
   The prince waited. The elder was silent. After a pause he said what troubled him:
   - As usual, everybody in the fields will have their weapons with them. Our rifles are ready, and our powder is dry, and our tethered horses will be nearby.
   The prince nodded:
   - As should be.
   - But it would be better still, if the young workhs would keep vigil, guarding the aul and us till we are in the fields.
   ___________________
   *kabak - a shooting gallery, erected on a cart. Shooting at the figures on the cart is a part of a celebration
   The prince looked at the old man with respect. This one was leaving nothing to the chance. "Clever are our elders!" - thought the prince. And said in response:
   - I have already issued instructions to forty horsemen to guard your peaceful labor and our dwellings, changing in shifts.
   With these words they parted.
   The dawn was still trying to open its eyelashes, and the red light in the east was still weak, when the aul dwellers gathered on the square. The plows and the harrows were already in the field brink. The women, shrugging their shoulders from the morning coolness, were loading their wicker baskets on the carts. The men were exchanging jokes, calling each other to compete. The neighbors exchanged greetings. Alchik, the tkhamada's assistant, was the most active in the crowd, at tkhamada's beck and call. Riding a young shoal, the boy was omnipresent.
   Then suddenly the silence fell. Nobody called to it. Just the east became crimson. And the sky began to get brighter. Everybody got the feeling, that it is the high time for departure. The priest prayed loudly, blessing them, and molla saw the Moslems off with a prayer.
   Psebyda with his assistants went forward. All the others followed. The caravan was moving along a narrow road. On the other bank an old forest was straining to get to the sun. Thick with the underbrush at the aul, it was getting thinner ascending the mountain slope, until it stopped completely, as if saying: "Well, that's all! Enough for me. Higher is the domain of stones, rocks and snows". At the bottom of the gorge the river was boiling. If some way down it was a dark band, it was becoming brighter there, far away, where the water caught the direct sunrays and sparkled, until it got again in the shadow of the rocks. The roaring of water did not irritate the ear. On the contrary, it was strangely comforting. But of course! Because this river was their river, the river of the Amysh aul. Its roar was remembered from the childhood. The eagles began their hunt already. There they are, hanging nearly motionless in the sky. How they manage it? The wind was bending very young grass to the boulders on the slopes. The sun and the spring waked the first bright flowers up. Psebyda loved to look at the nature waking up. He considered himself to be a part of that river, of these flowers and of the grass. May be he was right. May be he was. At last the caravan reached its destination. Here are the slopes, which will be plowed today, where the wheat and millet will be sown. They began their work without further delay. All of them were experienced in plowing. Psebyda occupied an observation post on a high hill, which was not good for cultivation. His assistants were with him. The manager began to evaluate and distribute all the collected food supplies. The smith was busy with the mobile smithy, mounted on a cart. And ajegafa began to dress into his joker's raiment - the sheepskin turned upside down, a fool's cap, the goat's beard, and an elaborately bent stick substituting a shashka. His business was to tease those who fell behind in their job, to find kind and funny jokes for those who were the best. One thing was obligatory - his jokes shouldn't be insulting or offensive. The other thing, which was taboo, was the intimate side of life.
   The coupled ox foursomes were already moving slowly along the slopes. The labor began. Those who think that the highlanders were only raiding adjoining territories, driving away their livestock, and living by robbery are mistaken. Their shirts were imbrued with the sweat of labor much more often, than with blood. Land tillers, herdsmen, shepherds, smiths, carpet and wickerwork weavers, tailors... Who would do all this work for them?
   The fat layers of rich soil were laid open by every plow.
   Psebyda sent Alchik to one of the brigades, headed by Amuzh.
   - Tell them, that they are preparing a great choorek today.
   Amuzh perceived the mission with gratitude.
   - Good! - said he to the boy. - The great chooreck will be ready by the lunchtime.
   Three of his assistants continued to plow the land. Amuzh gathered dry wood enough for a big campfire. He began to make dough, not lighting the fire. The big chooreck was done from the millet flour. Every day another brigade was responsible for that. It was baked on the hot coals, and its edges were coated with the wood bark. The length of this loaf of bread was half of a cart shaft. It was baked so, that it will be served hot at a lunch table.
   All the slopes were now showing their pre -arranged colors. Flags of red, white, blue, green were the signs of different brigades. The Moslems specially asked for the green color to denote their brigade. All the day these banners flapped in the wind, and were down only at the completion of the working day.
   The third day of work was devoted to plowing for the smiths, who were doing the repair work and couldn't do their share of plowing. The fourth was dedicated to plowing for the disabled, for the families without breadwinners, for the village shepherds and herdsmen - they were busy with the livestock and the horses and were absent at the plowing. The village crier was announcing this to all brigades. And ajegafa followed him. If there was any possibility, he plowed a furrow or two. But his main job was merrymaking, especially at the rare moments of respite.
   He organized some music and made the people dance. If someone was too tired to dance, by the order of tkhamade he was fined to sing a song. Every day the work commenced and was completed at the set hour. There were no laggards, since the neighboring team was always ready with the help. The first to finish plowing their share was Pshaya's brigade. He rode to tkhamada and informed him of this.
   - I have won the right to make the kabak!
   - Good, my son! Pago wants it to be erected at his own yard this year!
   Pshaya knew, that by tradition it was his solemn right. The wooden figures of a man, a deer, a sheep, a wild goat, and an eagle and of a black grouse would be erected on his cart and people will shoot at them in full gallop. Previously a figure of a boar was there, too, but recently, with respect to the feelings of Moslems, it was excluded. Amysh aul dwellers were riding their horses, bored by week's rest, and firing at the kabak.
   So, with firing, songs and merry jokes, people gathered at the Pago's yard to celebrate. The tables full with ample food were awaiting them.
   - Fykeblage! You are welcome! - the prince greeted his numerous guests.
   - Be healthy and bright! God bless you! - responded the peasants.
   The feast was long and gay. The aul maidens were also invited. The music sounded. The people danced their favorite Kafa.
   Katherine Zass was little by little forgotten in N fortress. At first her kidnapping was hot news. It was discussed everywhere. Then scouts were sent everywhere, looking for her. Two battalions went along two gorges, which seemed most suspicious to colonel Nazarov. The money was promised, as well as awards and officer's commission to the uzden, who will liberate the general's daughter. But all this was in vain. And then the indifference came to the quiet fortress. And that was the most severe feeling of them all - it was like insanity.
   Sineglazov said once to Andrey Andreyevich:
   - We all forgot, that the cruelty and injustice inflicted on one of us, is a threat to all of us, and to thousands of other people.
   Captain Maximov did not respond that time. But later, sitting at a card table in the officer's club, he said to the subaltern officer:
   - I am living here, in this fortress, so I am not afraid of any foes. What can they do to me? Kill me? Well, we are at war, so death is natural here. And more, I am not afraid of friends.
   - But why fear the friends?
   - Because they may betray. I was betrayed plenty of times! - He stretched his open palms before the face of the young officer. - That many, and may be more! For titles, awards, or money... People are greedy.
   - If you are afraid neither of foes, nor of friends, what you fear, then?
   - The indifference.
   Once, invited for a dinner at Nazarovs, he asked the commandant:
   - Yefim Yevdokimovich, what you would say to my request to have a couple of weeks' rest. I would hunt in the mountains. It would dispel my boredom.
   - Why can't you hunt in the neighboring Kizilovka mountain or in the Wild Pear forest? Plenty of deer, fallow deer and wild boars there.
   - Oh, no! I want to go to the high mountains. To visit Pago, may be. I long to see my koonak.
   - Well, you could begin with that, leaving that "hunting" nonsense! - said the colonel.
   - Yefim Yevdokimovich, - cooed Anastasia Pavlovna, serving an apple pie for the tea, - why not let Andrey Andreyevich visit his koonak? May be he will hear something new about Kathy?
   - What he can find new about her in Amysh aul? The scouts report, that she is being kept prisoner somewhere in Shapsughia. The letters come from there, saying that she is alive and in good health, and will be returned to Grigori Hristoforovich soon. And what is very strange - the culprits refuse to take any ransom.
   So Maximov was traveling with his inseparable Egorka. Second day of their trip two fallow deer ran out of the forest onto their path -one of those they changed that day, not sure of their way. The deer stopped dead just for one short moment, preparing to jump into the thicket. But that moment was enough for the captain. He took the rifle from the holster and fired. One of the animals fell on the ground, the other darted into the bushes.
   - Tkha ordains to make a halt here - said Maximov.
   He dismounted, took a knife out of its scabbard, to cut the victim's throat. While he skillfully skinned and cut the fallow deer's carcass, Egorka made a fire with the help of his flint, cut four bifurcating sticks and placed them in pairs both sides of the fire. Captain pierced pieces of the deer liver with two long thin branches and positioned them on the forks, prepared by Egorka. While the tethered horses grazed nearby, Maximov was preparing this improvised barbeque. He took a small pouch from his saddlebag and seasoned the meat with the mixture of salt with caraway. When one side was ready, he turned the twigs and did the same with the other side. Their simple lunch was ready soon. They enjoyed the savory meat, smelling of campfire and caraway.
   Wrapping the carcass of the deer into its hide and tying it tightly with the narrow strands of leather, cut from the animal's skin, the travelers put it crosswise on Egorka's horse croup, fastening it with lariat.
   - The road is long, - Andrey Andreyevich said. - Fresh meet will be welcome.
   - Sure will. - Egorka confirmed.
   But they did not ride a distance of two rifle shots, when they met a shepherd.
   - Let your herds be fat always - captain greeted the shepherd.
   - God bless you! - was the answer.
   The travelers gave a part of the deer carcass to the shepherd.
   - It can turn bad, anyway, - said captain to Egorka in low voice - it is hot today in the mountains.
   - Yes, rather hot, - consented that - So good meat must not be spoilt.
   The shepherd in return presented them with a flask of yogurt, a corn choorek and half a cheese.
   They reached the aul on a sunny morning. The wind was herding white clouds in the sky. The near mountain's summit was still hiding in the fog. The women were already busy, splashing their linen in the river. The aul herd was being driven to the meadows to graze. Maximov was riding along the wattle fences. Behind them saklias were standing, still only awakening with the bursts of children's laughter and the voices of young matrons.
   At the Pago's homestead Hamisha, one of the senior unauts of the prince, met them. Pressing his right hand to his heart, he greeted the guest:
   - A good day to you, koonak Maxim. Prince Pago waits for you.
   Andrey Andreyevich did not ask how he happened to know about his arrival - it would be naОve.
   - I would be glad to see the prince.
   Leaving his horse and Egorka to the cares of unauts, staff captain stepped over the saklia threshold, following Hamisha.
   - I thought already, that my koonak Maxim forgot the road to Amysh aul, - Pago met him - Let your days be long, let your health and your wealth multiply.
   - I also wish to you, prince, many healthy and happy years!
   They spoke of the road, mentioned the weather, and the rivers which were flowing full this year. Pago asked about some fortress officers, with whom he maintained good relations, if not exactly friendly.
   - Is colonel Nazar threatening us with his fist?
   Maximov made an astonished face:
   - Is there a good reason for that?
   - Who knows? You, the Russians, are unpredictable. Sometimes you scold us for our kindness, sometimes you praise us for being evil.
   There was a silence. Each was thinking his thoughts.
   "What is a reason of his visit, I wonder? - thought Pago. - It is a long way. One will not undertake such a venture just for pleasure".
   "What are his intentions, I wonder, - captain was thinking - Did he guess the real aim of my visit?".
   At last Pago uttered:
   - I know, that you shot a fallow deer on your way. And that you gave the meat to the shepherd.
   - Oh, not all of it. We also enjoyed the fresh meat. Delicious!
   The girls brought in the copper pitchers with water and the towels for the traveler to wash himself after a long and tiring road. After that the three -legged tables were brought in.
   - I have come to you, your highness, for recreation. I want to hunt and to have a short respite. I am tired of combat life. I want peace and quiet
   - Here you will find it - Pago answered - What kind of a hunt is your favorite?
   - I am too old to chase mountain goats. Too heavy. And the mountain paths seem too steep for me in my age. I would prefer a young wild boar, say...
   Pago smiled cunningly:
   - What has happened to the wild boars on Kizilovka near the N fortress? There were plenty of them there. Did you finish them off?
   - No, there are still plenty of them there. But I want a local one, Amysh brand.
   - Well, let it be so. Have a rest now. In the morning Arykshoo with my sons will accompany you. They also are fond of hunting.
   - Fine! - captain said. - We will be off tomorrow. And now, Pago, please, tell the unauts to bring here the saddlebag from Egorka's horse.
   His request was satisfied immediately and Andrey Andreyevich began to take out of the leather bag the presents, which he brought for his koonak and members of his household.
   - This is for my sister, Malichipkh, - Maximov unfolded a big Russian shawl with the flowery pattern. - It was bought on a big Russian fair. And this silk is for your daughter Adiyuh.
   A gray teak hat was for Arykshoo.
   - I know that the Kabardins never praise a hat and never present it. But I never saw a teak of this quality. This one was done for the Shamkhal. And this is for you, my koonak - and he handed to Pago an English smoking pipe with a bundle of English tobacco.
   The prince was satisfied with the presents, though didn't want to show it.
   - But who for you brought this? - Pago indicated a French book richly bound in embossed morocco leather.
   - This is a book about a magnificent Circassian maiden Aisse (Aishat). The author is a French abbot, the priest, as we say, by name of Prevot. She was kidnapped when she was but a girl, and was sold on the Istanbul slave market for a price of 1500 pounds.
   - High price! - Pago was astonished.
   - A nobleman brought her up, substituting her father. And the girl happened to be clever. She became one of the noblest dames of France.
   - It was a will of the Tkha almighty - said the prince. - But why you have brought this book here? Who will read it in the aul? We do not know the language of the French.
   - May be it will be of use to someone - the old officer smiled slyly. - A very interesting book. And what is important - it is about an Adyghe maiden.
   "You old fox! - thought Pago - what's on your mind?"
   Seven stars of the Big Bear constellation were fading on the sky when seven brothers, seven sons of Pago headed by Arykshoo gathered at the guest saklia, where captain Maximov spent the night.
   -Koonak Maxim! -Arykshoo called out. -Soon Zoohra* will wake up the dawn.
   Time to get up!
   - You old tree stump! - Andrey Andreyevich scolded Egorka - You brought shame on me in the presence of all these djigits! You overslept and forgot to wake me up as I told you - before the Venus appears - or Zoohra, for God's sake!
   Egorka, lighting the camp kerosene lamp, was hurriedly helping his master to prepare for the hunt. Their preparations were short. The Kabardins brought the saddled horse for the guest, and a small band left the aul when the dawn was to be only guessed in the east. At the outskirts of the aul three experienced hunters - Tlibitsa, Sosym and Yapanas were waiting
   - A good day for hunting today - promised Yapanas, the sharpest shooter and the best guide in the gorge.
   - Amen! - responded captain, still sleepy.
   The gorge took the band into itself slowly. The silence was serene. The quiet rustle of the fallen leaves under the horses hooves was the only sound heard.
   - Octoberish weather - captain said to Arykshoo.
   The prince shrugged his shoulders. He did not know such a word.
   - I mean, that the summer is over already. And forgotten.
   - The land, which was visited by spring, must wait for autumn, too - answered Pago's brother.
   When the first rays of the sun fell on the slopes of the gorge, the clouds, weaned from the cold bosom of the rocks, floated to the valley. Maximov felt the still morning air on his face. Arykshoo saw, that the last bright flowers of this autumn were swaying in the wind, keeping the dew droplets inside.
   - How beautiful! - he gestured to his guest, indicating the nature around them.
   Soon Yapanas, putting all his shooters on the firing positions, went with Tlibitse and Sosym to scare the animals so that to channel them to the selected shooting lanes.
   _____________
   *Zoohra - Venus
   - Be on your guard! The animals will surely run this way. Do not miss!
   Arykshoo smirked. Maximov was left alone. He looked around. Many trees already shed their rich raiment, exposing their naked trunks to the autumn sky. The others still wrapped themselves into purple and gold. And the autumn was pouring from a wide opened pouch its unlimited gold stock on the ground.
   Far away the first shot of the noisemakers rumbled. Then the second and the third.
   -O -hey! O -hey! - they shouted at the top of their voices.
   Maximov waited, hiding. Hunter's instinct made him forget about the sad beauty of the surrounding landscape. The silence was broken now by the rifle shots, the cries of the noisemakers and the dogs' barking. Then suddenly the silence fell. It was so quiet, that the captain distinctly heard the beat of his own heart. An animal patter sounded nearby, coming closer and closer. Several wild pigs with piglets were running along the path.
   "I will let them pass! - Flashed in his mind - No good shooting the suckers!"
   The pack went further to the place, where Dabech was sitting in the ambush. But his rifle was silent too - he also decided to let the pigs with their litter pass. Again the cries were heard, and then the barking of the dogs got frantic.
   "They are chasing a big beast!" - decided captain.
   Loud rustling of the dry leaves anticipated the appearance of a great boar. He stopped dead on a hillock close to a high oak, and listened attentively. Maximov raised his rifle.
   - Under the left shoulder blade - he whispered.
   The shot thundered. The boar looked undisturbed in his direction, turned and went back into the thicket. He was not running. He walked.
   "But you can't go far!" - decided Maximov. And was right. They found his trophy but twenty yards away. Jelihstan, the youngest of the hunters, also got a young boar. He couldn't conceal his joy. Andrey Andreyevich understood him so well, that considered it proper to praise a good shot:
   - Just like me! Under the left shoulder blade. Good shot!
   - Well, shall we continue hunting or two boars are enough for one day?
   - Enough! -Maximov said firmly. - What shall we do with more?
   When the day ripened, the hunters had a bite from the lunch basket of Malichipkh and prepared for the way back. The sky scattered colorful silks: blue, white, and far in the distance, where the sun was still shining - orange and red. Jelihstan was leading the band of mounted hunters and horses, loaded with the boars' carcasses, already skinned and cut into large pieces.
   - Let him train to find the right path - Arykshoo said.
   Halfway home suddenly a deer came out on their road. Visibly surprised by this meeting, it stopped for a moment. That moment defined deer's destiny. Jelihstan momentarily took his rifle from a slipcover and fired the horned beauty. The deer jumped sideways and collapsed on the trail.
   - Pago will not eat pork, - said the youth - we will bring him deer liver and tongue.
   The deer was skinned and cut in no time. By the end of the day the hunters were in the aul, where dinner was waiting for them.
   Washing the lamb meat down with the hot bouillon, Andrey Andreyevich asked Pago, as if continuing their old discourse:
   - Will you show me the girl, prince?
   Amysh's son was neither surprised by this question, nor made any false pretence, asking "Which girl you are speaking about?"
   - In honor of my koonak, Maxim, we will organize dances. And you may select during "Kafa" dance the girl you are looking for.
   What a miracle is that Kabardin "Kafa"! It was destined to come to life with the Adyghe nation, absorbing the fairy charm of the mountain gorges, the tenderness of the Terek valleys, the whisper of the foliage of the centenary old plane trees! It has a span of the proud eagle's wings, a wave of the thin grass blades touched by the wind, and the twitter of the swallows, and the unique coloring of the butterfly, stretching its wings over the scarlet flower!.. Do you hear the swifts' song? Do you see the blue placidity of a lake touched by the slightest wind? Do you feel your heart miss a beat as if in premonition of beauty? All this is a "Kafa" dance. The ritual, confession in high passions, forgiveness for past mistakes, a call for kindness.
   Andrey Andreyevich was enjoying "Kafa" not for the first time. It was natural, since he was koonak of Kabardins for so many years. A young man came into the circle of dancers. Looking around with eagle's stare as if trying to charm all those present, he made a circle, falling in rhythm with music, then turned to the girls, who formed a segment of that circle, selected one of them and, putting his hand on his heart, invited her. Then he moved to the center of the circle. The djigits were clapping hands to the music. Two girls took the invited one by the elbows and led her to the center of the circle. And the dance began. It was magic. The partners, without a single touch, seemed to melt into each other. Suaveness, plasticity, harmony.
   - How beautiful this dance is! -exclaimed the staff captain. I wish they could see it in the Petersburg salons.
   - What would happen then? - asked Pago, standing beside the captain.
   - They would forget their waltzes and mazoorkas * and gentlemen would engage their dames to dance "Kafa".
   Pago did not know such word, as `to engage", but guessed its meaning and smirked, imagining the mundane dames and sleek gentlemen of Petersburg dancing this ancient Kabardin dance.
   - Whom are you going to invite for a dance, koonak Maxim?
   The captain already selected a charming young girl to dance with and indicated her with his eyes to the prince.
   - That one, I think, - he said and moved in the direction of his choice, automatically falling in step with the rhythm.. The girl was standing with her very young and pretty girl friend.
  -- Oh, well, you missed! - laughed the prince.
   _____________
   * mazoorka - a Polish dance, fashionable in Petersburg
   But Maximov already approached Dahawos, standing between Katherine and
   Bidoh. First he wanted to invite Bidoh, but when he was already close to them, he changed his mind and bowed to Kathy. When Andrey Andreyevich was in the center of the circle, Dahawos and Bidoh led Kathy to him. Maximov was not bad "Kafa" dancer, but his partner was a real master.
   "No, - captain thought - it is not a sort of foreign dance she dances. You have to have it in your blood to dance like she does, and to practice it from the young nails.
   I made a mistake. This is not Kathy, for sure."
   But in the end, when he had to see his partner back to her place in the circle, he said:
   - Thank you, Kathy dear, for these minutes of pleasure!
   The girl lowered her eyes, as the Kabardin girls do, and answered in the language of the highlanders:
   - Thank you too, koonak Maxim, for selecting me to be your dance partner.
   Ready to turn and go away from the general's daughter, captain called to Pago:
   - Is it possible, Pago, to bring here that book, which I brought as a present, without naming the recipient?
   - Why not, koonak Maxim? The will of the guest is sacred!
   Without stopping the dances, they sent for the book. Getting it, Maximov again approached Katherine Zass.
   - This is my present to you. I did not know any better way to surprise you.
   At the very first glance on the book's cover, the girl grabbed it, not concealing her delight.
   - Aissa! Aissa! I was thinking about her so often, living here, among these marvelous people! Andrey Andreyevich, dear! How can I thank you?
   She threw arms around his neck and embraced him, forgetting all highlander traditions, which certainly forbade such behavior in public.
   But who wold denunciate Kathy for this emotion? There were no such people among the aul dwellers. In the evening they left Kathy with the captain in the guest parlor. The fire was hot in the fireplace. Fruits and sweets were in abundance. But the old soldier and the girl were oblivious of all that. They talked and talked and couldn't stop talking. First Katherine wanted to know all the news about her parents, and then she told him the story of her stay in this aul - an unusual, colorful and edifying story.
   - My God, Andrey Andreyevich, you do not know, how marvelous these people are - Kathy repeated.
   It was much past midnight, when the captain asked her:
   - Aren't you going back to your parents?
   - I would stay gladly, - said the girl, - but it is not what they had in mind, when they kidnapped me. Their late prince Amysh had another intentions, and they will not permit me to violate his will.
   - What about your love for Dabech?
   - But he cannot marry me until I am returned to my father, anyway.
   - And then?
   - What "then"? He will ask for my hand. He loves me!
   - Passion is a bad advisor, - said old Caucasian. - Can you imagine Grigori Hristoforovich giving his daughter away in wedlock to Kabardin abrek?
   - Won't he? Then I will desert to my lover.
   - And then the general will burn Amysh aul to cinders. He will kill everybody, who became so close to you.
   - But what shall I do then, dear Andrey Andreyevich? I cannot live without him.
   - The love, which fears obstacles - is not real love at all. It is a bird with a single wing. First you must return home. And then the God will help you.
   - But how will I bear the separation?
   - The separation will not diminish your love. It will increase your feeling.
   Next morning Pago and Maximov discussed the details of Katherine Zass' return to the Strong Trench Fort.
   - What was the reason for this? -asked the captain. - For a long time I was reluctant to suppose, that Kathy is here. Nothing made sense: neither your interests, nor your code of honor...
   - Koonak Maxim, the easiest thing was to kill general Shaitan. It wouldn't be
   so difficult to ambush him in the hunting grounds of Vardanes.
   - Vardanes?
   - Yes, Vardanes, Kuban in Russian. Shaitan hunts every week in those places, which became his hunting grounds. One abrek. One shot. The end of Shaitan. But Amysh, let his soul rest in peace, chose another punishment for our main enemy. Since the most precious possession of general Zass was his daughter, he ordained to take her. Not to punish her - the innocent soul - but to shelter her in our aul, to bring her up according our traditions, to love her, and, if possible, to make her love us.
   - You managed to do the impossible. I think, that local nannies and girls had to apply all their eloquence to achieve that result.
   - Gratitude does not need eloquence - said Pago softly.
   - What it needs then?
   - It is proved by good deeds. By benefactors.
   - To demand gratitude from an inexperienced maiden for every of your good deeds is to trade on them. Sorry for being rude, koonak Pago.
   The smile of the prince was condescending. His eyes were kind and sympathizing. They said "My koonak Maxim, you are a poor man, if you do not understand...".
   Aloud he said:
   - To demand gratitude is silly, and to be ungrateful is despicable. Do you know, my friend, that there are much less ungrateful people in the world, than we usually presume?
   - Perhaps... same as the generous people are less, than the thrifty.
   Pago laughed:
   - Your clear mind is the reason of my affection to you, koonak Maxim.
   Captain pretended not to pay much attention to that praise, though to hear such words from Pago would be flattering even to Kuchuk Jankhotov and his principal foe, general Velyaminov.
   - Thank you, prince, for your kind words.
   The girls, Dahawos and Kathy among them, brought in the copper basins, pitchers and towels. The guest and the host washer their arms and faces, drying them with towels. Then they were served the breakfast: hot lakooms, soft -boiled eggs, the deer tongue and brains.
   - Your trophy - said Pago.
   - It was Jelihstan, who shot the deer - Maximov commended the Pago's junior.
   The prince nodded silently.
   - How do you plan to return the girl to the general? - asked Maximov. - If the general will be informed, that you hid the girl for three years, he will burn the aul.
   - He will not know. For a long time we feed him information, that Kateh was taken to Shapsughia. He was seeking her there. And still does.
   - But how you will return Kathy to the Strong Trench Fort? It would be silly to take her to Shapsughia and then back to the Fort.
   - We do not intend to.
   - Then what is your way to do it?
   - We will bring her to the N fortress.
   Maximov shifted his weight on the chair, not getting Pago's idea.
   - Zass is not a fool. He will reason, that it would be madness to take a girl to Kabarda in order to drag her again to Kuban. It would be much simpler to deliver her to one of the Adygheyan auls near Armavir and from there - directly to Strong Trench Fort.
   - I do not think, that the hare of bad luck will cross our way to Kateh's home.
   Shapsughs are free to choose their fiduciary. You, captain Maxim, have many friends among the Black Sea Adyghes. So, it is natural, that they selected you as a messenger of good news. And you will invite our djigits to accompany you with Kateh to Armavir and the Fort.
   - Why should I select you?
   - Because we are the closest aul to your fortress among the Christian Adyghe's auls. Whom but us you could select as your assistants in this affair?
   - Have you thought out this plan when you were planning to kidnap Zass daughter?
   - No! This plan I thought out just now. If the God sent you here at such a moment, it is his will.
   - But what if I didn't come now?
   - We would elaborate some other plan.
   - But colonel Nazarov will not consent to commit a military crime.
   - The war, which we wage for many decades, is a big crime. And this is a virtuous action. And you with the colonel will receive your awards without burning auls and killing people.
   - I have got all my Crosses for combat expeditions, Pago! - Maximov was offended. - Risking my own life and spilling my own blood. I do not want any awards for this girl. But I want to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. At the same time I am afraid to undertake anything, which I will be unable to complete successfully due to my insufficiency.
   - Do not divulge colonel Nazarov in any unnecessary detail. Tell him, that Shapsughs contacted you.
   - And then?
   - All very simple. As the dawn and the dusk. Our djigits, with their heads covered by beshmets as the Shapsughs usually do, will hand you Kathy in the appointed place and will vanish. Tree carts, loaded with Kathy's belongings and presents, will wait with the guards over the Kuban bridge. There you will meet and continue your way to the Fort. My sons will see the girl to the walls of the fortress and return home.
   - If the general will let them go alive.
   - It's all in the hands of God almighty, - Pago answered. - we cannot send her home alone, like an orphan. She is a daughter of our aul.
   - Aren't you afraid to loose all your dearest ones at once?
   - The man fears to break a nail on his finger. But we became humans only when we overcome our fears. Once a coward, always a coward... In Kabarda you are either a man or a slave.
   - Whose slave?
   - First you become your own slave, then you will find a master. Or a master will find you. Because he has to have slaves not for work only, but for a feeling of power. The feeling of supremacy.
   - What if he is not superior at all?
   - More reason to have slaves.
   - Do you think the plan you delineated for me now is plausible? - the voice of the captain was hesitant.
   - Every big business seems impossible in the beginning.
   - Let me think it over till morning, prince.
   - It is morning already!
   - I mean the next morning. I have come to you to have a respite, remember? And now... We may hurry, but we must not be hasty.
   - Very well, koonak Maxim, take your time. Do you want to go hunting once more?
   - No. We will make corned pork out of our trophies. I hope you will find two small plane tree barrels. One of them I will present to Anastasia Pavlovna, the other I will keep for myself.
   That day Maximov made corned pork. Kathy, Daha and Egorka helped him. Two barrels, salt, spices were brought by the aul men, but they did not take part in the process. With the appearance of Moslems in the village little by little pork disappeared from the tables. To avoid offending their countrymen, with whom they shared the toil and the ease, they abstained from it, and women kept special kitchen utensils, which were not used to prepare everyday food. Two forty - pound barrels were ready for transportation. Captain sat on a stone with his back to the saklia wall. He smoked his pipe and thought. He had plenty things to think over.
   From the very first day of the Kathy's kidnapping he did not exclude the possibility of Amysh people being mixed with it. But the main contradiction was that the whole business seemed useless for them. They wouldn't take ransom. Pago
   would not permit it. To exasperate the general? Why, it was much easier to kill him outright from an ambush.
   "But they were above it! Look, where their plans are going! How to solve this complex situation now? How Kathy will behave? Will she be able to keep the secret? What if she will tell everything to Grigori Hristoforovich? Gratitude will wear out quickly. I must talk with the girl once more" - decided the soldier. And then again he was lost in thought: "Kabardins will ask my advice. But what must I tell them? The things they want to hear, or the things which will be unpleasant, but will save their lives? My advice must be simple and clear, as the sunny day. Better still not to advise anything".
   Arykshoo arrived. Sat on the stone beside the captain. They sat long in silence.
   - Is it your doing, prince?
   - Mine also.
   - Was it difficult?
   - Not very. I have seen more dangerous exploits. What is so difficult in kidnapping a girl?
   - It depends, what kind of a girl is it. If the girl is a daughter of the commandant of the whole Kuban Line, it is difficult. And dangerous.
   Arykshoo's answer was simple and devoid of bravado:
   - When the tightrope walker is doing his trick, he may loose his balance for a moment. That is not defeat yet. But if he looses hope, he will fall and break his neck. We never lost our hope. That's why we succeeded.
   Suddenly they were speaking of war and peace. Arykshoo was never cunning with anyone. He spoke what he thought:
   - You want to conquer us? What for? Isn't it better to be koonaks? How many Russians perished in this war? Probably more, than in the war with France. What kind of victory it will be? And will it be a victory? God knows how many battles are ahead. Take off the combat glove from the hand of war, and try to show us your palm, and not the fist. Or else all your victories will always be dressed in the black attire of mourning.
   Maximov was silent. He had no desire to get involved into this discussion. Solution to it was beyond their power. It was beyond the powers of Kuchuk, Velyaminov, Yermolov. It was beyond powers of the Czar himself, for that matter. The prince, feeling his unwillingness to continue the discussion, was silent, inhaling agreeable aroma of captain's pipe tobacco.
   Then, breaking a pause, what was not like him, Arykshoo continued:
   - First they kill us. Mercilessly, day after day. And then...
   - Then what? -captain was interested.
   - Then Russians, and with them French, Inglize,* Turks and Rums** will help us.
   They will save us from hunger, from epidemics. But there will be much more dust in our eyes, than the real useful help. Several healers will be sent without their medicines, and a dozen of caravans of stale dry bread crusts, which were not eaten by your own soldiers, because the military campaign was over.
   - But it will be over, do you think?
   - It has to be officially over some time.
   - And unofficially?
   - Unofficially any war is over only when the people will consent, that it is over.
   Not the Czars, not their courtiers, but the people.
   - Have not you heard, that all the wars are began by courtiers. If they begin the wars, they terminate them.
   Arykshoo shook his head in negation:
   - This is a mistake. Yes, the Czar's lackeys really begin wars. But only peoples terminate them. I am sure, that sometime the Circassians and Russians will become brothers.
   __________
   *Inglize - the English, ** Rums - the Italians
  
   - Are we not brothers with you now, Arykshoo?
   - I am speaking about all Russians and all Circassians.
   - And when this fraternization will occur?
   - May be not soon. But, may be, that day is quite close.
   - And that bond will be eternal?
   - I think, that sometime there will occur some discrepancies due to the religious differences, or because of some non -forgiven past insult. But they would be overcome much easily, then the present bloodshed. We soiled our souls with too much blood.
   A messenger arrived from Pago. He invited his guest and his junior brother to lunch. The big european table was served under a big pear tree, because the main dish of today's lunch was too big to be served on a traditional small table. Pago's sons dug a square pit and made a hot fire on its bottom. Several quails were stuffed inside a partridge, which was stuffed inside a pheasant. The cock was inserted into a wild turkey - ular. All this was stuffed into the lamb with lots of spices. Then the lamb bowels were sewn together with specially prepared kid guts. When dry dogwood, pear and apple logs subsided into a blanket of hot coals, they took that lamb, put it on a big skewer and roasted it over the hot coals, rotating the skewer slowly. When Andrey Andreyevich and Arykshoo arrived, the main course was ready. Till Pago, Arykshoo, and Andrey Andreyevich washed their hands, Pago's sons served it on the table. The hot millet pastah and the garlic -yogurt sauce were ready, too. Pago took out his dagger knife, and cut the lamb's belly. He took out the ular, then, cutting its breast, he took out the pheasant cock, out of which he extracted the partridge with the quails. One of these quails he handed to Maximov on the point of his knife. The captain took the proffered piece with both hands.
   - Glorious dish! I never tasted anything alike!
   Pago smiled. He liked to regale people with delicious food. This was prince's weakness. And here on the table was his favorite preparation. Once upon a time Amysh taught Pago and Arykshoo to cook it. Pago transferred the secret to his sons.
   - We must not let this fine course disappear from our life - said the prince.
   The fragrance was felt far away. The taste of the food was probably excellent, since Arykshoo, usually indifferent to his food, was showing his delight. Pago's sons cut pieces of meat with their sharp dagger knives and handed them to Pago, Andrey Andreyevich and Arykshoo. They never sat at the table themselves, of course. In the presence of their father and the uncle they could sit somewhere aside only during the raid.
   Washing their hands after the meal, the brothers went with their guest to the saklia to enjoy dessert, prepared by Malichipkh. That was the time for Pago's sons to pay tribute to ular and the lamb...
   Sitting at the dessert table, Pago asked the captain:
   - What will be your advice, koonak Maxim?
   - People give nothing with such ease, as advice. Isn't it too late for advising?
   - The good advice cannot be late - noted Arykshoo.
   - Will you accept it?
   - To accept a good advise is to win the whole affair, - said Pago.
   - Good advice will increase our chances -supported him Arykshoo.
   - You are clever, my koonaks, to hear to the advise of the old soldier. There are some people, who do not want to hear anything, until somebody cuts their ears off.
   Everybody laughed.
   - Well, this is it... - Maximov began to explain his idea. - Shapsughs, as the lot was theirs, will name you, Amysh family, as the intermediates between Zass and the guilty side. You will apply for the permission to negotiate to the commandant of N fortress. Here I join the game. I will convince colonel Nazarov in all possible advantages of such a decision. And then we all will act according to Pago's plan. If we do so, we will not have to hide during the journey. The Circassians will not interfere, and the Russian soldiers will be ordered to come out to meet and escort the delegation. What you say to that, Pago? How do you like the advise of the Russian officer?
   Pago was silent. Arykshoo was showing clearly, that his opinion is ready, but he does not dare to speak before his elder brother. The pause was continuing. The silence was becoming oppressive. Maximov wanted to elaborate on his explanations, but Pago stopped him with the gesture of his hand.
   - I understood you. Do not hurry the horse of my doubts, koonak. It will find the way home.
   Arykshoo, speaking farshibze, expressed to his brother his opinion about the Andrey Andreyevich's plan. The essence of his speech was clear - to agree!
   Pago looked attentively into the clever gray eyes of the staff captain:
   - If the advice is good, it is good irrespective of the author - whether he is an officer of the hostile army or the abrek from your aul.
   The captain either was offended or pretended to be:
   - We, prince, do not wage combat actions against Amysh aul, and therefore I do not consider myself to be hostile to you. Remember, I am your koonak.
   - You have swallowed the bitter gulp from the pitcher of our discourse, - said Arykshoo. - We are not enemies. But there is a lot to learn from the clever enemy, provided you are clever yourself.
   Everybody laughed, forgetting the offence.
   - How we will explain the situation to those, who will ask most reasonable question: "Why the Shapsughs had to drag the maiden through so many posts and ambushes, if they wanted to return her to the Fort - hundred miles extra?
   - Usually good efforts are not discussed -said the captain.
   - But I always am cautious, when there is something I cannot understand in the stranger's behavior - Arykshoo objected.
   Pago put a stop to that discussion:
   - The clever deeds are dictated by intelligence, and by wise people. If a man is not intelligent, he has to rely on his common sense, on his experience. Some have it as a gift of nature, some have it by necessity. Let Zass select an explanation himself.
   Then they elaborated on the details. They tried not to let any small item of their plan to escape attention. But even when everything seemed as clear as possible, Maximov said with a heavy sigh:
   - Well, is it possible to stipulate everything? The life will surely make it's own amendments. We are depending on the circumstances.
   - On God - corrected Pago. - What is written by great Tkha on our foreheads, will be fulfilled.
   In the evening the aul youths made a reception in honor of the Russian guest. As usual, the big caldrons were put on fire to boil the veal and make pastah. Maximov was tired of sitting at the tables, but, knowing the Kabardin customs, accepted the invitation and did not show his weariness. The lads, breaking in two groups, were busy at tug -of -war. The flexible ring, made of young twigs of hazelnut tree was their rope. The game was noisy and gay.
   - Won't you take part in the competition on our side? - Jelihstan invited the captain.
   - Why, sure! - captain agreed right away.
   He was placed in the center of the group. And they won. The captain was happy as a child.
   The party was coming to a close, when several maidens in natty Kabardin national dresses came to the center of the circle and Dahawos, making several steps to the captain, addressed him in a perfect Russian with the slightest Volga accent, which was characteristic to Katherine Zass:
   - We, the Amysh aul maidens, girlfriends and sisters of Katherine Zass, want to present this song to you.
   Captain leaned forward, all ears. He was delighted by her immaculate pronunciation. "Look at that hazel! How she managed to learn Russian. And she has the same accent, as Kathy has."
   The charming sounds of the song were already flying to the mountain summits, to the starry sky:
  
   Mother dear, how boring is lone life
   Boring life, because my lover does not come
   How will I hide my sadness, oh, but how?
   I will better go out on the porch,
   I will look along the street - isn't he coming?
   Isn't my falcon flying by in clear sky?
   The Russian song beat and splashed in the gorge, dashing away to the black velvet of the sky, studded by large stars, which can be seen only over the mountains. Emotions were overfilling Andrey Andreyevich. There was a lump in his throat, and there were tears in his eyes. The mountain breeze was stirring the silk of the maiden dresses. The light of the full moon was bright and gentle.
  
   Oh, my dear, don't you hurry to run away!
   Let me have another look at pretty face! -
   the girls were singing.
   Clear young voices, hidden love, passion, hope - all this intertwined in this song. When a capella was completed and the silence fell, captain Maximov took out his handkerchief and frankly drying his tears of deep emotion and blowing his nose, was mumbling:
   - Well, they got me! They really pleased me!
   - Now is my turn - Kathy Zass said to the captain.
   She went several steps forward. Several lads stood behind her. She was singing in Kabardin, and the djigits refrained: Oh! Oh! uareda!*
   They call her Malech in the village.
   Her tresses coil to her shoulders.
   She dreams about someone,
   She sighs about someone,
   She tells to her girlfriends about someone.
   __________
   *Uareda, uaredada - usual Adyghe refrain
   Kathy's eyes found Dabech in the crowd and now she was singing for her beloved. Maximov noted that.
   "Ah, the young years! - he thought. - What good the war does to them? The people want to find their happiness in love and friendship."
  
   Her skin is fine like the dawn.
   Oh djigit, persuade her, conquer her!
   Take her to be your wife,
   Press her close to your heart,
   Conquer her, tame her, obtain her! -
   with these words Kathy finished her song about Malech, which really was a song about herself and Dabech.
   - If I told the officers in the N fortress, that the daughter of a Russian general sings Kabardin songs, they wouldn't believe me! - said Maximov, deeply touched.
   Next morning, receiving a horse from Dabech, ("it will carry your corned meat barrels!" - the young prince was saying), captain thanked for the gifts, and, promising to meet them soon in the interest of a common business in the N fortress, returned to his service.
   Pago's sons accompanied him to the exit from the gorge. They stood for a long time on a hillock, waiting Andrey Andreyevich with Egorka to vanish in the distance.
   - If you want to reach your destination, ask about the road you have to cover, - said Bech to his brothers.
   - We did not loose our way so far - either consenting or objecting his brother said Jelihstan.
   - Still, do not hesitate to inquire politely about the road ahead - Dabech slapped his shoulder.
  
   Anastasia Pavlovna, receiving a barrel of corned pork from the captain, inquired:
   - Had a good rest, Andrey Andreyevich?
   - Perfect! - answered the experienced Caucasian. - I visited my friends, shot some game. The main thing is to distract from the service routine. No parade grounds, no reports, no sentry replacements!
   Colonel Nazarov asked him about the attitudes and a mood of the Kabardins in the auls the captain passed and was satisfied by his report.
   - That's better, then the robbery - their favorite pastime! If they would be good to us, we will also be kind to them, - he said.
   The garrison life was flowing like placid water. Thank God, without raids and murder. Parades, sentries, horsemanship exercises of young officers, who wanted to imitate Circassians in everything. The captain's day was filled by the usual routine from morning till night. And then the tea party at Nazarovs, or a game of cards in the officers club, or, sometimes, a couple of drinks with someone of the friends to pass time.
   Once a lone horseman with the face, covered by the bashlik came to the fortress gates. Only eyes were distinguishable on his face. He asked to call his koonak Maxim. The captain was informed about the visitor. He mounted his horse and went out. After a long discourse with the stranger, captain immediately reported to the commandant, that he had very important information.
   - Kathy has been found! - fired he the hot news.
   - What Kathy? - colonel bulged his eyes. - Fine cattle of fish! What that Kathy babe is doing in our Palestines?
   - Zass, I am speaking of Katherine Zass - Andrey Andreyevich answered.
   Colonel, who was sitting comfortably in a deep armchair, began to stand up. But his obesity and that very deepness of the armchair prevented him from doing it in a soldierly way. He struggled, got red in the face and beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead. Standing erect, at last, he asked the captain in surprised whisper:
   - What you mean, Zass?
   - Just like that...The elder son of Pago, Dabech by name, arrived from Amysh aul.
   - Is Katherine with him?
   - Oh, no, how possible! A messenger from Shapsughia came to their aul. He proposed the Christian Kabardins to be intermediates when the general's daughter will be handed over.
   - And what, say, they are demanding in exchange?
   - That's the main news. Nothing. They just return the general his daughter, and that's it! What a streak of luck for us!
   - Is not it a trap, I wonder?
   - Pago's son is at the fortress gates. Ask him yourself to be sure, if you want.
   - But of course I want to! Ask the brave fellow to me. He deserves an award for this good news. An officer's rank was promised, if he accepts it.
   They sent for Dabech, who appeared immediately and confirmed everything reported by Maximov. Anastasia Pavlovna, hearing good news, fussed:
   - Our custom is to treat the messenger of good tidings to a real feast!
   Colonel Nazarov supported his wife's intention. While the table in the dining room was served, the three men were discussing details of the Katherine Zass return to her father.
   - What your father, Pago, thinks about this affair? -captain feigned interest, pretending, that he did not know about this business before.
   Dabech demanded the map of the Kuban Line to be brought in and indicated:
   - This is the place, where three ox carts will be waiting for us at the appointed time. They will be loaded with your maiden's personal belongings and the gifts to her. The carts will be under the guard of Azhgiri Kushuk and Ali Khartsizh.
   - Oh, no! Anybody, but these robbers! - Yefim Yevdokimovich tried to object.
   Dabech waited for him to calm down and explained:
   - I only relay the conditions to you. I do not dare to make any decisions.
   - How many horsemen will be with Azhgiri and Ali? - Andrey Andreyevich inquired.
   - No more than ten, including themselves. The aim of the band is to escort your maiden to the point of destination. The names of these abreks are so well known in the Transkuban territory, that it insures her successful passage. Nobody will dare to attack these vehicles.
   - But where Kathy will be all this time?
   - First she will be delivered to our aul. We will escort her to N fortress, and from here we will move to Kuban.
   - How many horsemen Pago intends to send with the girl? - colonel asked, still not believing in such luck.
   - Not more than ten, - was the answer.
   - Thank God! I thought that you would amass an army of a thousand sabers.
   - No. We are not going to a war, remember?
   Anastasia Pavlovna invited them to a table full of delicacies: Paris salad, aspic pike perch with the pickled cucumbers, bouillon with parsley and dill, cold veal, smoked tongue, corned pork, numerous sauces... Yefim Yevdokimovich poured vodka into their tumblers.
   - For the good news and for a good messenger!
   The officers clinked their glasses and drank with visible pleasure. Dabech did not touch his glass.
   - And you, prince, won't you join us in our toast? - there was a hint of reproach in the colonel's voice.
   - Do not ask him, Yefim Yevdokimovich. It's all in vain. I know Dabech from his young years. He never drank a drop of alcohol. - Maximov explained.
   - It's a pity! - Nazarov said, pouring vodka again. - Will he refuse to eat, too?
   - Why should I? - Dabech was embarrassed. He took a piece of cold veal, adding a spicy sauce.
   Anastasia Pavlovna took a great dish of a fried veal brisket from her servant and positioned it in the center of the table. Fried in butter and covered with a layer of onion, aromatic roots and spices, it filled the dining room with agreeable aroma and looked very appetizing.
   - Please, do not reject this course, - the hostess spoke to the young prince. Maximov cut out a piece of meat with his dagger knife and put it on Dabech's plate.
   - Help yourself, koonak! It is not customary to insult the hosts, abstaining from their food.
   But Dabech was a spare eater, contrary to Yefim Yevdokimovich. They drank tea in the commandant's study.
   - What will be the plan of our immediate actions? - asked the colonel, addressing to the young prince.
   - Everything now depends on Shapsughs. As soon as they bring the Shaitan's daughter, we will escort her to your fortress.
   - You deserve an officer's rank for delivering Kathy, - said the colonel, when they were parting. - Will you accept the epaulettes from out sovereign?
   - It is not in my power to decide that, - was the answer.
   - Whose power is that, then?
   - My father - prince Pago's.
   And they parted with that.
  
   It was raining all the day long. By the evening a quiet sun appeared, drying the wet -through aul. Pago was on the veranda of his saklia, enjoying the slow descent of the luminary beyond a mountain summit.
   "The day closes his eyes" - said Pago to himself.
   The sky went gray, then became black. The evening came. Feeling its chill, the prince returned to saklia, put a fur jacket on his shoulders and sent a manservant to fetch Badyn, Kaitsuk and Nasren. They appeared soon, and their father told him about the mission he was going to entrust them. Pago was laconic as usual, but made himself clear. he always kept to the Kabardin saying: "To speak much does not mean to say much."
   Now his speech was short and clear, as always:
   - The carts with the Kateh's belongings are waiting. Escort them to Kuban. A man of Azhgiri Kushuk will show the exact point. Return immediately. Do not get engaged in any skirmishes. If there will be any danger, leave the vehicles and retreat. Take twenty horsemen with you. Badyn is the senior in this mission.
   His sons were silent, waiting for more instructions.
   - I told you all. So help you Aus Gerg!
   The aul was preparing to Kathy's departure. Each family presented her with a gift. She was invited to stay as a guest in every saklia. First Kathy accepted all this fuss as another game, like that with chickens, and the cheese tied to the top of a greased pole. But little by little she understood, that the days of her stay in the Amysh aul are counted, and she rebelled:
   - I am not going anywhere! You said, that I am your daughter! And now you are driving me away! Is this your vaunted Kabardin hospitality?
   Dahawos understood, that all this storm of emotions had only one reason -Dabech. Loving him madly, the girl was ready to stay in the mountains forever.
   - Bech will kidnap you again, if general Shaitan will not consent to your marriage.
   - Bech will forget me. All the girls are after your uncle. He will forget me, he will!
   - Nobody can forget a girl like you, - Dahawos was telling her friend - You are the most beautiful, the cleverest...
   Kate went to Malichipkh:
   - Nana, I stay here and marry Dabech.
   The mother of her beloved couldn't conceal her surprise:
   - Oh, my! Where have you seen the girl selecting a husband for herself?
   - He kidnapped me. Now he is responsible for my fate. Your son has no reasons to reject a girl he kidnapped. I was a virgin and I stay a virgin.
   - What you are talking about, my daughter? Dabech did not kidnap you to make you his bride. There was another aim. A great and important one.
   - More important than love?
   - Oh, yes. Even more important than love!
   - It's impossible.
   - Say things, which are evident not only to you, but to the others, also.
   Kathy grew silent. It seemed to her, that nobody wanted to understand her arguments. "I must not talk till Malichipkh says: - Stop talking! I don't want to listen to you anymore!"
   Bech's mother grew circumspect as silence continued. At last the girl said:
   - All right, I will depart, Nana. I tried my best to explain my feelings, but you did not understand my words. I am afraid, that the thoughts I have in store now you will not want to understand at all. - Lowering her head, Kate went out of the room.
   Pago was discontented. The plan, the great plan of Amysh, which was so cleverly implemented, was going to pieces.
   "To scold Dabech? What for? To take offence on Kateh? How it is possible to be offended, if this girl cherishes a high and passionate feeling for his son?"
   The prince went to Kate's room, preliminary informing her about his visit. Daha and Kathy were busy reading the story about the Circassian girl Aisse, narrated by the abbot. When the head of the clan appeared, both girls stood up, waiting for his words with their heads lowered.
   Sitting them opposite himself, Pago sat on a three -legged low stool and began his difficult speech:
   - I came to implore you, Kateh, - he began. The girl wanted to stand up as the tradition required, but he stopped her by a gesture of his hand.
   - My father, prince Amysh, bequeathed to kidnap you, the daughter of general Zass, to bring you up as a daughter, to teach you all the best of Kabardin skills and knowledge.
   - What for, Dada?
   - So that you would tell your father and to the people, surrounding him, about our nation, which they hate so much.
   - Was I a bad trainee?
   - Adyghes say: "Do not pour clean liquids into the dirty and leaking pitcher." We were lucky - we got a clean bottle of crystal glass.
   - I wanted to cognize the unknown. I wanted to approach my teachers.
   - You succeeded.
   - I had good governors. They not only told me the truth, but also taught me to find that truth myself.
   - Have you noticed, my daughter, that we did not hurry. You set the pace yourself.
   - I don't know, Dada. I did not count hours or days, because I was happy.
   Prince felt a lump of sentimental feeling in his throat. He understood, that the girl knocked him out of his saddle, and kept silence.
   - What must I do, ada? - Kathy asked after a long pause. She said "ada" - father instead of customary "dada" - granddad. Pago noticed that.
   - Listen to me attentively, my daughter. The fate of the Amysh's plan and the lives of the aul dwellers will depend much on your understanding and fulfillment of what I will tell you now. We will pretend, that the Black Sea Circassians kidnapped you. You were brought up in a small mountain aul of Kabardins, living there. That is all you have to pretend. All other details you can narrate as they were. Tell them how you lived, how we live. Tell them that we are not wild beasts and that we do not devour our babies. Sing them our songs and dance our dances for them to see.
   - And, with your permission, I will cook to them our gedlibje!
   - Sure, why not? Make good hot pastah to accompany that!
   Pago rose. The girls followed.
   - Ada, may I request you? One thing only...
   There were tears in Katherine`s eyes.
   - Yes, my daughter. It will be fulfilled.
   - Only God knows, whether this request is reasonable or not.
   - What was your request?
   - I will go out. Please, let Daha voice it.
   When they were alone in the room. Pago stopped his granddaughter:
   - Stop. Do not tell me a word! Tell Kathy that we will send an embassy to the general. Tell her, that my horse will be also tethered at the general's hitching post at the Fort. I will personally ask for the hand of Kateh for my son Dabech.
   Daha's face shined with joy.
   - Thank you, dada. Let the great Tkha help you!
   After that the Kathy's preparations for her departure turned into a continuous festival, which was concluded with traditional feast and horse racing.
  
   The messenger, sent by Pago to colonel Nazarov informed, that Katherine Zass is already in the Amysh aul and will soon be transported to the N fortress, escorted by twenty horsemen, headed by Pago's brother Arykshoo and his seven sons.
   - Why they are twenty in number? We talked about ten.
   - Ten will accompany her over Kuban River. The other ten will return to the mountains.
   Dabech awaited the messenger, Pshaya, one of the uzdens close to Pago, at the fortress walls with ten horsemen. They circumvented the fortress walls and were in the colony of the mountain Jews -Tats, handicraftsmen and traders, who provided the N fortress inhabitants with leather goods and merchandise from all corners of the world. Men, women and children rushed out to meet the guests. Even the old people tried equal the young. Everyone wanted to sell something. But nobody knew what the guests would demand.
   - I want to meet a man, Penhas by name - Dabech was short.
   - There are three men by that name - said the old Jew. - Which one do you want?
   - God knows, which one is the man.
   - Even our Gods are different - the old man continued.
   - Shut up, Avrum, -said a stout elderly Jewish woman. She evidently was an unchallenged authority here.
   - Tell me, djigit, what do you want?
   - Want to buy a dress. For a girl.
   - What kind of a dress? Circassian, Kumyk, Nogay?
   - No, - answered Dabech. The kind they wear in the main city of the Russian Czar. The best, most gorgeous.
   - Then you really need Penhas. Hey, Ida, - called she a pretty girl - go and tell your father to come here. Tell him that djigits came to see him.
   Soon a short Jew with watering eyes run down, catching his breath. His dress saw better times and was not of a best cut.
   - I am all attention, ziuskhan! - he addressed Dabech, unmistakably defining the leader among the horseman. As all Tats, he spoke good Kabardin, but with a strong Jewish accent.
   - Is your name Penhas? - Dabech smiled, hearing this "ziuskhan" title here, in the Jewish colony.
   - Yes, my lord.
   - I want to buy a maiden dress from you. The most beautiful one.
   The Jew scratched his curly hair with a small palm.
   - Is the maiden big or small, blackish or with blond hair?
   - Forget about the color of the hair. The size is just like that girl - and he indicated the barefooted Ida, which seemed to him resembling Kateh in stature and height.
   - I have a dress for just such a doll. Yes. Polish Jews brought it to me from Petersburg.
   - Show it to me!
   - Let's go to my shop, djigit. There you will find what you desire.
   The shop was a poky house, dirty, full of children, women and oldsters. Seeing the customers, they all began to talk simultaneously, fussing and offering goods, without knowing what those want to buy - from Circassian shackles to ladies undergarment articles.
   -Quiet, you! - Penhas shouted. - Ida - he called his daughter, who was so different from the entire crowd. She was beautiful and statuesque.
   "What eyes! - thought Dabech. - Two emeralds."
   The girl came to her father:
   - What do they want?
   - Show them the dress from Petersburg, the one from the latest bunch.
   - What would they do with such a dress? - she spoke in Tat language.
   - Pay us money, - was the Jew trader' answer.
   The boxes with the dresses appeared one after the other. They were opened to show Dabech the contents. But he did not know which one was to be selected for Kateh.
   - Nothing suits you? - Ida asked.
   - I cannot select the right one. Help me, beauty.
   A kind word may open the fortress' gates. Sympathy was in Ida's eyes.
   - Show him the most expensive ones, - said her father in Tat language. But his daughter was already on Dabech's side.
   - Is it a dress for your beloved?
   - Yes - was the short answer.
   - She is not Circassian?
   - No, she is Russian. With a streak of German blood.
   To speak good, one must be laconic.
   - You said, that she is like me. - The Jewish girl got embarrassed and righted herself:
   - My stature, my forms?
   Dabech understood.
   - She is just like you - said he, winning the girl completely.
   - There are three dresses that will fit me. All of them are new arrivals. One... German, the other from Venice, and the third from France.
   - Try them on - asked Dabech.
   Three times Ida entered the room in different attires, and each time she astonished and enraptured Bech.
   - How beautiful you are! - the prince couldn't restrain, looking at the Tat girl tightly draped in a maroon Venetian silk.
   - Thank you, djigit. I will remember your kind words for a long tome! Kabardin princes are rare guests in our hamlet. And not every one of them would say such words to a poor Jewish girl.
   - How do you know that I am a Kabardin prince?
   - Who else is able to say that? Which one of the dresses you liked most?
   - All the three of them, - Dabech answered. He took a leather pouch with golden coins.
   - Take from this the price of the three dresses. Also take the price of the accessories to fit each of them.
   Ida counted the coins and opened her palm to show them to the prince.
   All the Penhas family was busy, making parcels with the purchases. When boxes, bolls and tiny bolls were all loaded and fastened on the packhorse, specially brought here for this purpose, the girl returned the pouch with gold to Dabech.
   - Take from this pouch as much as you consider enough to dress you fitly for your wedding, my beauty.
   - No, djigit. You already made me rich with your kind words.
   Dabech took several coins himself and demanded:
   - Give me your hand!
   The girl extended her both hands coupled together, as the Kabardin tradition dictated. Dabech put the gold into her palms.
   - Farewell, beauty!
   - Let you be happy, prince
   And the horsemen rode away, leaving the inhabitants of the Jewish hamlet at the walls of the N fortress in dismay.
  
   Accepting Dabech's gifts, Kathy thrice appeared before him in exquisite attires. The prince looked at the girl and smiled, remembering Ida, which also changed the dresses and displayed them to him, hoping, that he will notice her beauty.
   "Woman's embarrassment, when she is happy, has much more advantages, than the man's hardness" - Bech thought.
   He closed his eyes to see the Jewish girl better.
   - Don't you want to look at me? - Kathy bit her scarlet lips.
   - It's impossible to look at you for a long time, you are like the sun.
   The girl laughed:
   - At last I heard something pleasant from you.
   On the eve of her departure Pago had one more meeting with Kathy. He did not elaborate on the importance of the mission they had to fulfil; did not talk about girl's responsibility. What for? Everything was said before. Katherine put her blond head on the shoulder of the clan's master.
   - I will miss your advice, ada!
   - And I will miss your care and attention. Never think that we can manage without you. It will be a mistake.
   - It will be a greater mistake, if I will think that I can manage without you.
   All inhabitants of the aul went out to see Katherine Zass to the exit from the gorge. Only old people, unable to stand up from their beds and the tiny babies in their cradles did not participate in that procession.
   On the wide valley, surrounded by mountains from all sides, they made a dancing circle.
   - Is this the end of our gorge? - Kathy asked Malichipkh.
   - It depends, daughter. If you are going from aul, it is the end. But if you are going to the aul, this is the beginning.
   The musicians began a `Kafa' melody. Pago came to the center of the circle, approached to his former captive, who became his daughter, and, pressing his palm to his breast, invited her to dance. When he returned to the center, two Kathy's girlfriends took her by the elbows and led her to the prince.
   "Is it my farewell `Kafa", I wonder?" thought Kathy and, frightened, corrected herself: "No, at least not the last one. There will be many of them in the future!
   Pago danced, fighting down the tears that were ready to run down his cheeks. The general opinion, that the highlanders are made of stone and are as hard as a rock, is wrong. They also cry.
   "I hope Kateh did not see my tears" - Pago thought.
   The day Kathy went with her escort to the N fortress, the sun got up early, was hot and blinded the eyesight. The quiet streets of N were swept and washed clean, as usual. And there, behind the walls, or, to be correct, behind the south eastern one, were the mountains, covered by forests. In spite of the hot rays of the sun these forest -covered slopes were not warmed up and looked dark. The clouds still lingered in the gorges, hesitating to come out to the valley. It was hard to distinguish their fluffy white and the whiteness of the snow on the mountain summits.
   Such was the morning when colonel Nazarov with a group of officers rode out of the fortress to meet the daughter of general Zass. Anastasia Pavlovna was with them, travelling in a light two -wheel gig. The group was complete with the long four -wheel open tarantass.
   - Let it be at hand, - said Anastasia Pavlovna to Yefim Yevdokimovich. - No -load trip won't do it any harm.
   The delegation, led by Arykshoo, appeared from the side of Belaya River. Ten horsemen, fully armed, were riding in the front of the procession, ready to repulse any attack of a possible enemy. The cart with Kathy and Dahawos was in the center. The latter did not agree to let her friend travel alone.
   - Good, - Adiyuh agreed - you well see Kateh to N fortress and return.
   - No! - Daha contradicted her mother for the first time. - I will accompany her to the Strong Trench Fort. And I will live with her as long, as she desires.
   - But then I will ask you to stay for a whole life! - Kathy laughed with joy.
   - Yes, but our life span is different - said the highlander girl quietly.
   - Doesn't your heart beat faster even at the thought about our parting?
   - Nothing good will happen if my life principles will depend on my heartbeat, - Daha, too clever for her age, said sadly.
   So, they were travelling together. Their Bzu and Bzhe, tied to the back of the cart, were walking unsaddled, resting. Dabech and Arykshoo were at their sides. Ten best djigits were in the rear guard, ready to act swiftly and ruthlessly on a single command of their leader. When Nazarov's detachment appeared in front, Kathy squeezed Daha's shoulder.
   - Hey, it hurts! Let go! Don't be afraid so! They will do us nothing bad.
   - Only that who possesses himself, is strong. Remember? - Arykshoo whispered, leaning down to them from his saddle.
   Some time prior to their departure from aul, Kathy asked Adiyuh:
   - Ana, who was Daha's father?
   - Ask Arykshoo, - was the answer.
   Finding a proper moment, the general's daughter put her question to Dahawos' uncle:
   - Shu, dear, will you tell me about Daha's father?
   Arykshoo did not resist:
   - Many pretenders sought my sister, Adiyuh. It was a great honor - to become Pago's son - in law. And she was famous throughout Kabarda for her beauty. Alidj - the father of your friend - was among them. He was from the neighboring aul, from princely family, which went broke. His chances for this marriage were poor. Once we went to a raid and reached Crimea. We stormed several cities and were returning home with heavy loot, when encountered on our way a small fortress, guarded by a Turkish garrison. We often defeated the Turks - they are not the best soldiers. But those in that fortress were real warriors, deserving merit. Whatever we did, we could not succeed to break through the low walls of the fortress. One single cannon and three dozens of Turkish cutthroats armed with rifles did not give us a single chance. I circled the fortress, trying to break in, but in vain. Then I took my high hat off and, throwing it behind the wall, I shouted:
   - He who will get that hat, will become my brother and Adiyuh's husband!
   Well, that was a miracle! The horses of my comrades were like birds, several of them succeeded to jump over the wall. Alidj got that hat. When the battle was over, he rode to me and, handing me my hat, said: "Cover yourself. You are a prince!"
   - What happened after that?
   - Well, after that... Alidj got seven wounds in that fight. We barely managed to bring the djigit back alive. The quacks treated him. Then there was the marriage. Dahawos was born in due time. But those wounds were too heavy. The hero died of them and people composed a song in his honor. Daha knows it. Ask her to sing it to you". Kathy shook her head, returning to the present.
   - Only that who possesses himself, is strong. Remember? - Arykshoo whispered, leaning down to them from his saddle.
   - I will not loose vigor whatever happens, Shoo!
   - A severe wound will heal sometime and a small wound does not deserve much attention - Dabech interfered.
   - Do not worry. I will meet anything with dignity. We have no power to change the course of events, anyway.
   Nazarov with his officers began to descend from the hill, leaving the gig with the commandant's lady and the tarantass on the hillock.
   - Well, that's it, - said Kathy, looking at Dabech.
   - No. It's not what you think. Despair is always looking lake a beggar, compared with the hope in bright attire.
   - God bless you, Dabech! But where do you see that hope in a bright dress, I wonder! - Katherine turned away, concealing her tears.
   - Prince Arykshoo, - the voice of colonel Nazarov was booming nearby - What a rich gift you brought to us!
   Colonel wanted to embrace Arykshoo, but he pressed his right hand to his heart and bowed formally.
   - My brother Pago sends you his respect and best wishes!
   There was a small delay at the fortress gates. Nazarov was reluctant to let twenty armed horsemen inside.
   - It may be dangerous - said he to Maximov.
   - What danger these twenty horsemen may present, if they have arrived with a goodwill visit?
   - Oh! - colonel Nazarov was balking - They can massacre the whole garrison at night!
   - What is the cause of delay there? - It was the voice of the colonel's lady.
   - We are discussing where to put the guests, accompanying Katherine Grigoryevna for the night - inside or outside the fortress? - Maximov answered.
   - What? Are you joking, Andrey Andreyevich? - the commandant's wife was infuriated. - Pago's sons and their uzdens will occupy the officers club. Ten other djigits will spend the night at the infirmary, which is absolutely vacant now, thank God. Princes Arykshoo and Dabech will be the guest of Balkaruko's. And the girls will be with me, certainly.
   - See, - the commandant was clearly relieved - everything is already settled! We were loosing our time in that discussion.
   Once inside the fortress Anastasia Pavlovna continued to issue exact instructions:
   - Everybody goes to his appointed places, washes and cleans. In the evening princes Arykshoo and Dabech with the senior officers of the garrison are invited to our house. Pago's juniors will be the guests of our officers in their club. A festive dinner will be served in the infirmary for the djigits of the escort. Andrey Andreyevich, you will help me with your advice and necessary instructions.
   - Sure I will, dear Anastasia Pavlovna - the captain was evidently glad to hear her clear and reasonable commands.
   In the evening the commandant's house was full of guests. The servants with the helping team, cooks and servants were busy, fulfilling commands of Nazarov's lady. She was very happy and intended to spare nothing to make this evening a real ball. On the eve of the party the regimental tailor, a polish Jew, whom everybody addressed formally as Moisey Danilovich and only the colonel called him by a short name - Misha had to work overtime. One of the three dresses, bought by Dabech for Katherine, the French one, he was refurbishing to suit Dahawos. At first she rejected outright to undress in the presence of a man, then she said that tailor's fingers were tickling her, but little by little the work was done. And now Dahawos looked a real beauty, not less than enchanting Kathy, which was dressed in maroon Venetian dress.
   The table was full of luscious dishes - aspic fish and venison, boiled chicken, pate of goose and beef liver, pate of goat cheese, filet of venison with tomatoes, onions and cabbage, chicken kavurma - a dish amply seasoned with red hot pepper, steaks with wall -nut sauce, meat with melted cheese and what not... And of course, Anastasia Pavlovna's favorite dishes - a meat and cabbage pie and pancakes with caviar. And a great number of sauces! With nuts and with garlic, with smoked tongue and with deer brains, with mushrooms and with chilly pepper, with horseradish and apples...
   Vodka was a main drink. Though chihir* was in wide choice, and different brandies and fruit liquors, and even Champaign Veuve Clicquot, acquired for that case in the Jewish shop.
   Arykshoo was bored by all this fuss. Unaccustomed food, alien odors, some morbid, as it seemed to him, desire of men and women to gain a favor of some influential person or persons, desire to attract attention to their own personality... The prince tried to find a quiet corner, but he was found there to present a newcomer, to tell somebody's life story or to be inquired about some unknown details of Katherine Zass' life in captivity.
   Only two officers stirred some interest of Pago's brother. One was a colonel, who returned yesterday from Chechnia, where he fought a little less than a year. It was prince Vladimir Alexeyevich Oblensky. The other was Cossack yesaul Ivan Petrovich Strelkov, who introduced himself for unknown reason as Hivin.
   _______________
   *chihir - from Arab "shagir" - wine
  
   "If everybody knows yesaul's name to be Strelkov, why he introduced himself to me as Hivin?"
   Kathy, Anastasia Pavlovna and Daha were at the piano. The lady of the house and Katherine Zass were playing four hands or singing romantic songs with guitar accompaniment.
   - Just look at that native, that aborigine, singing in Russian - major Petrov was surprised.
   Prince Vladimir Alexeyevich, blood rushing to his face, said to the major:
   - If not the punishment for dueling, due to which I am already serving time in Caucasus, I would arraign to duel with you this morning for insulting this charming girl.
   - Oh, come off, Vladimir Alexeyevich, she does not deserve your anger!
   - To you I am not Vladimir Alexeyevich! Call me Your Highness!
   Petrenko retired, shrugging his shoulders.
   Arykshoo, who overheard this discourse, sat beside the prince.
   - Thank you. But you shouldn't pay attention to this serf. I would cut his ears off myself for insulting Dahawos here and now, but the circumstances do not permit it.
   - Cut his ears off? - prince Oblensky laughed wholeheartedly. - I imagine this slave, as you called him, walking among our ladies earless...What will you say, prince, to a cup of English tea? I adore this drink.
   Arykshoo consented. Small banquet table was already served with tea essentials, and Vladimir Alexeyevich with Arykshoo sat there. The tea, made according to the Oblensky's recipe was so fragrant, that Arykshoo was glad, that he accepted the invitation of a stranger. The samovar was steaming nearby. Pouring tea for Arykshoo into a glass, and for himself into a big cup from a paunchy chinaware teapot with a broad nose, the colonel was illuminating his guest:
   - The leaves of this southern evergreen plant are collected in India and dried
   there, but they sort out and pack it in England.
   - Do Inglizes* like tea?
   - Yes, they are very fond of it.
   The colonel stretched his hand and took a fine wooden box, which contained cut
   tea leaves. Opening it slightly ajar, he inhaled the fragrance and handed the box to Arykshoo. The latter followed suit and felt magnificent aroma, comparing it to the fragrance of alpine flowers, which Kabardins dried to prepare their tea. That aroma seemed more familiar and habitual.
   But he did not say it aloud, thanking the colonel:
   - Inglizes seem to know lots about it.
   The tealeaves in the teapot uncoiled and were rather big. To prevent them from falling into the cups, a small silver strainer was used. Anastasia Pavlovna passed by, rustling her silk dress and substituting the Darjeeling tea aroma with the fine odor of perfumes.
   - Are you drinking empty tea? - she asked.
   - What do you mean - "empty tea?" - the Kabardin was astonished.
   - I mean - tea without honey, fruit marmalade or bagels...
   She immediately covered the table top with plates, containing pieces of apricot, viburnum and cherry pies, honey, jams and marmalade.
   - Well, this will vary our tea party - Oblensky said. Though I often drink an "empty tea".
   He was narrating about Chechnia, where from he returned recently.
   - The war there is quite different, - said the Russian.
   - Different compared to what?
   - Compared with the war here, with Kabardins.
   - We do not wage war against the Czar long ago. This is not the war, it's a pastime. But when we were fighting, there was a real bloodshed. Real bloodshed.
   - But then why continue this pastime, as you called it? The youth is too sprightly?
  -- No. Your side is unjust, burning auls, taking civilian population as prisoners,
   __________________________________
   *Ingliz - from Turkish "Inglizi" -English
  
   selling them back to us after some time. We reciprocate.
   - Blood for blood, eh?
   - Happens so. The Czar will not conquer Caucasus with such generals as Zass and Velyaminov.
   - What about the others?
   Arykshoo shrugged his shoulders. What could he answer? Anyone here was talking less about this war, than he knew. And, trying not to hurt the adversary's feelings, the worst was not mentioned at all. At last Vladimir Alexeyevich said:
   - Zass, you say... I do not have any claims to his daughter, and still consider her kidnapping a shame for the highlanders. Because the girl is innocent. She cannot be held responsible for her father and she must not.
   - As far as I came to know, the Adyghes did not offend the general's daughter in captivity. They adopted her and called her their own daughter. - Arykshoo answered.
   - The captivity will never compare with the liberty, - said Oblensky. - But I am not speaking about that. Last autumn my old acquaintance Nikolay Ivanovich Lorer, exiled like me to the Caucasus, but for political, not for amorous affairs, invited me to hunt into the Kuban forest. I accepted the invitation and was glad to do so. We were the guests of the baron von Zass Grigori Hristoforovich. He has several hunting lodges with dog's kennels and professional hunters in those forests. We hunted big game and pheasants. I remember, that they cooked those pheasants in cream sauce - delicious!
   - Did they serve those pheasants with pastah?
   - Pastah? - Oblensky was amiss.
   - Millet porridge, very thick.
   - Oh, yes, - remembered Oblensky - they said that the dish without that pastah is not so tasty. Well, after that hunt we were invited to the Strong Trench Fort. We accepted the invitation and went there. I will not tell you about the fort and it's garrison - it may be a military secret.
   Arykshoo smiled:
   - I know every house and every street in that fort. And every cannon and every powder keg chamber. So no need to dwell on that.
   Colonel looked at him in bewilderment.
   "These devils, - thought he - most probably know everything about the N citadel, too".
   - So, what Zass demonstrated to you in Strong Trench Fort?
   - God save you from seeing something like that! We have come to his official residence. When we entered his study, we were suffocated by some horrible smell. I took my scented handkerchief, pressed it to my nose and departed at once. But Nikolay Ivanovich stayed and that's what he told me afterwards: "Zass, laughing, dispelled my perplexity, saying, that his people obviously put a chest with the heads under the cot. And he really took out a great chest, opened it and I saw that it was full of the dead heads of Circassians, looking at us with those terrible glassy eyes.
   - Why do you keep them here? - I asked him.
   - I boil them, clean and send them to various anatomic laboratories to friends of mine, Berlin professors."
   Oblensky stopped talking and moved aside the cup of tea he was drinking. There were tears in his eyes.
   - I remember, that I was terribly sick after Nikolay Ivanovich's narration. We rejected an invitation to stay in the Strong Trench Fort and left the fortress urgently, thanking the host hastily for the hunt in the Kuban forest. That's the story, dear prince.
   Again Anastasia Pavlovna appeared, emitting fine perfume scent. Arykshoo's sharp eye noticed, that his collocutor is not indifferent to the charms of their hostess.
   "That's their own business" - he thought.
   - Ladies are bored without you. Yefim Yevdokimovich collected all officers with a game of cards, and ladies are left without any attention and care.
   - Well, we will have to comply with the ladies' wishes, prince - said Vladimir Alexeyevich to Arykshoo. The latter stood up readily, as if hearing a battle call.
   - Kabardins say: "Woman is your spouse, the mother of your sons. She is a guarantee of immortality, because she repeats you in your children. Women's wishes must not be rejected."
   The commandant's lady looked at the handsome highlander. She couldn't expect so chivalrous words from him. She was surprised and did not conceal her feelings.
   Kathy and Daha were clearly glad to see Arykshoo's return. But Dabech was pleased even more. He was the only one of seven Pago's sons, invited to the commandant's party, as the senior of them all.
   - What you are doing with me? - Bech implored, seeing his uncle. - I ate my heart out, not knowing what to do with the ladies!
   Oblensky took the initiative of ladies' entertainment into his experienced hands. They compiled a cunning plan to break up the card game, and soon the hall was full of officers. The officers were obviously relieved, because nobody wanted to loose, and it was unwise to win, playing cards with the commandant.
   The small orchestra began a melody resembling a waltz, Vladimir Alexeyevich intended to engage Kathy for a dance, but she managed to whisper to him:
   - I beg you, engagez my friend. For her it will be a first tour of waltz with a man, since I was her dancing partner before.
   Oblensky did so with great pleasure. The pretty Circassian in modern French dress was light, as a feather, and was obedient to the dance lead of the colonel. Daha waltzed better than Petersburg flirts. And her eyes were magnificent. Spanish blue...
   - You are an easy partner to dance with - colonel praised her.
   - It is not my merit, it was... Katherine who taught me to dance - was the answer.
   She wanted to say her usual "Kateh", but stopped in time, remembering where she is. Later Vladimir Alexeyevich danced with Kathy, too, but he was more and more attracted to the beautiful Circassian girl.
   The commandant's spouse was jealous:
   - Are you not going to invite me to a dance today, Vladimir Alexeyevich?
   - How possible, dear Anastasia Pavlovna! Do me a favor! Please! - and the pair swirled in a tour of waltz.
   The party was a success. But the story told by Oblensky spoilt a lot of its charm for Arykshoo.
  
  
   Next morning ten escort horsemen, as previously was promised to commandant Nazarov, returned home, to Amysh aul. Arykshoo with his seven nephews, Pshikan and one more uzden - a participant of the Armavir kidnapping - Aues by name - stayed to accompany Katherine Zass further - to her father.
   Arykshoo, Dabech, captain Maximov and colonel Oblensky gathered at the commandant's study to elaborate their plan of further actions. The messenger, sent to Kislovodsk, to general Ubetsok, brought back an oral instruction from the general: to act as Nazarov will consider fit, but ensure the escort security with a cannon and proper personnel, to curb any abreks' attempt on Katherine Grigoryevna.
   - If the soldiers or Cossacks will not attempt to harm her, I guarantee the security from the Circassian side - Arykshoo said.
   - Do you really think, that our gallant warriors are capable of that? - Nazarov was indignant. His face became purple. That happened to him ever so often lately.
   - Gallant or not - that you know better, colonel. -Arykshoo was undisturbed.
   I guarantee observation of Katherine's inviolability by the Circassians. You may leave the cannon. No need to drag it that far. And it will make our progress slow.
   - No. I will include the cannon into this detachment.
   - Are you intending to head the expedition yourself - Oblensky was surprised.
   - No. I cannot leave the fortress. I intend to entrust this delicate mission to you, Vladimir Alexeyevich.
   Oblensky kept silent, but after a minute, excusing himself to Arykshoo and Dabech, called Nazarov to the adjoining room.
   - Yefim Yevdokimovich! I implore you! Do not send me to Zass! Last time I was there, in Strong Trench Fort, I saw such a horrible thing, that I cannot meet with that Herod.
   - But, colonel... - Nazarov began in official tone, but, looking into pleading eyes of the prince, waved his hand: - All right, all right, we will send Maximov. May be he will get an award for that.
   Returning to the room, he announced:
   - Since Vladimir Alexeyevich returned from Chechnia not long ago, I decided to give him an opportunity to relax in the fortress. I think it will be a just decision. So, Andrey Andreyevich, I nominate you to be the head of this expedition.
   "That is the result of their whispering in that room" - Maximov thought.
   But it was all clear for Arykshoo: he understood, that this honest officer was reluctant to meet with general Shaitan, the collector of dead Circassian heads.
   Their eyes met, and Kabardin nodded to the Russian with gratitude.
   At that time Anastasia Pavlovna showed Kathy and Dahawos around the fortress. Clean streets, white -washed houses, plenty of trees.
   - This is the officers' club... and this is the stockade... infirmary...soldiers' barracks.
   Civilian people were rare. Mostly the military were in view. And the civilians they met were women with pails, bundles or baskets.
   They approached the parade ground, where the new recruits were being trained.
   Kathy did not find anything of interest there, but Dahawos was interested by the bayonet evolutions, cutlass fighting of Cossack scouts, hand -to -hand fighting.
   - Good training - told she to the commandant's lady.
   Anastasia Pavlovna did not want to take the girls to the firing range, where the officers were training at that time, but Kathy insisted:
   - Anastasia Pavlovna, dear, please! I did not see that for three years.
   And the commandant's lady, a kind soul, consented. They came to the firing ground. The officers were hitting or missing their targets. Their valets were reloading their pistols and handing them back. They fired at a target, which resembled a figure of a Circassian. Seeing the guests, the officers stopped shooting and greeted the ladies.
   - You are welcome! - major Petrenko said. He was the senior at the firing ground today.
   Wishing them success, the ladies were about to leave the place, when Katherine addressed the major:
   - Will you permit me to shoot a pistol? My daddy, Grigori Hristoforovich, allowed me to.
   - Shooting is not a ladylike occupation! - the commandant's wife tried to reason.
   But the major, wishing to win the attention of general's daughter, agreed:
   - Why not? The girls may have a try, I suppose. They are at a military fortress, aren't they?
   The soldiers put up a new board, and were drawing a figure on it.
   - Please, do not make it to resemble a Circassian! My friend may be offended.
   At last everything was ready.
   - But how do you hold this pistol correctly? -Kathy pretended naivete.
   She was explained in detail and came to shooting position.
   Raising the pistol, she pouted her lips:
   - It is so heavy! - Then, thinking a moment, she continued: - May I go further from the target to see it better?
   Major shrugged his shoulders. The officers exchanged smiles. Sure. These ladies are so touching...
   - Hey, lad! - Kathy addressed one of the valets standing nearby. - Hand me a couple of loaded pistols!
   The soldier looked inquiringly at the major. He nodded his consent. Silence fell. The girl was holding a pistol in each hand. She shot seemingly without aiming them. The shots boomed as near a double, as possible: "Boom -Boom!"
   The figure on the target was hit twice. One bullet was in the head, the other in the left side of the breast - in the heart.
   Kathy took the third pistol and announced:
   - Breast, right side now!
   Boom! The hole was in the right spot.
   - May my friend have just one shot? - And, do not waiting for the answer, she ordered to the valet: - A pistol, please.
   - Center of the breast, between left and right shoulders! - announced Daha. She raised a pistol and looking in another direction, fired.
   - Dead center! - Kathy exclaimed.
   Officers were looking at the girls, not believing their eyes.
   - But it... but this... - major Petrenko was stammering.
   -This is the result of the Circassian training. Remember, gentlemen, that all Circassian ladies may shoot like this. Try your best not to offend them.
   Soon after that the commandant with the ten Circassians, who were to escort the guest to the Strong Trench Fort, appeared at the parade ground. Colonel Oblensky and captain Maximov were there, too. Kathy and Daha, accompanied by the group of officers from the shooting range joined them. Here Arykshoo again saw the officer with the double name. "What name he mentioned when he presented himself to me yesterday?"
   - Yesaul Hivin! - the officer said aloud, shaking hands with the prince. - Since the time of our acquaintance I was looking for a chance to talk to you, but you were occupied every minute.
   - Will be glad to hear you out, yesaul, - was the answer.
   While commandant was acquainting the officers with the guests, Hivin told Pago's brother his most fascinating story.
   - My father, Peter Strelkov, was a soldier of Grebensky Cossack regiment, which was escorting Khan Dovlet -Girey to Hiva as ordered by our father - Czar himself.
   "Dovlet Girey, Dovlet Girey? Oh, yes, - remembered Arykshoo, - that is the name the Cossacks call Bekovich -Chercassky, our Kabardin prince and a close friend of the Russian Czar Peter.
   ...Their task was to explore the shores of the Caspian Sea, as my father told me. The expedition was successful, though extremely difficult. But our prince Chercassky was founding fortresses, arming garrisons, establishing trade routes with the help of merchants he took with him to the expedition. The Central Asian steppe was explored, full of mysteries and riches. Here is an excerpt of what was written about that expedition: -yesaul took out a four-folded list, and read: "Near the dams, which prevented the flow of waters of Amu -Darya to the Caspian basin, a town was to be established. Digging the dams away, the famous Oxus flow to the Hwalissian* sea was to be renewed. There was a legend, that the peoples of the Central Asia diverted these waters to the desert Aral Sea in order to prevent Russians to penetrate deep into their unknown lands. But neither people, nations nor kingdoms may escape their predestined fate. While implementing that great task, prince Chercassky was to convince the Khan of Hiva to become a Russian subject and leave, if that be necessary, a detachment of Russian guard to strengthen Khan's position on his shaky throne". Here the Cossack officer stopped reading, folded the paper and put it away.
   Arykshoo was looking at him with interest.
   - What happened next? What more your father told you?
  -- The Khan of Hiva, Shir -Gazi with a numerous horde attacked the detachment of Dovlet -Girey. The fighting continued for three days. The Cossacks from the Chercassky regiment lost only ten men, while the Hivans, Turkmen and Kirghizs had about a thousand killed. Khan asked for a truce. He swore on the holy Koran to be loyal to the Russian Czar. Shir-Gazi invited Dovlet-Girey with his nobles to visit him in Hiva and to be present at the festive feast. Prince Chercassky presented Khan with the royal gifts. And the hosts were regaling the guests. But the treachery was at hand. The guests were attacked by the Hivans, and imprisoned. Prince Chercassky was tortured and then they skinned him. They made his effigy of that skin and exhibited it over the city gates to disgrace him. They did not kill his brothers - Seunsh and Akmurza - because
   _____________
   *Hwalissian - Caspian
   they were Moslems, and let them go. And out of the whole regiment only Ivan Dyomushkin and my father Ivan Strelkov, named after that Hivin by Cossacks, remained alive. That is the story of my double name.
   - You see, yesaul, that out brotherhood is cemented by the blood of our fathers. How dare we to kill each other? - the Kabardin prince said.
   But by that time Nazarov noticed the absence of his main guest, and called for Arykshoo.
  
  
   The departure was set for the day after. The time left was used for preparations. Nazarov insisted, that one cannon should be included into the convoy. Captain Maximov was against, but at last he let the things go.
   The entire caravan was lined up at the forest gates. Ten Circassians headed by Arykshoo, a hundred of Cossacks, and the cannon with its team. Of course, the tarantass for Kathy Zass and her Circassian friend. Captain Maximov took his place at the head of the column.
   - God with us! - said he and they moved.
   The gates opened. Katherine was on her way to her parental home. The slack pace of the expedition was stipulated by the slowness of the cannon movement. The road was monotonous and boring. Plains, plains. Hills and hillocks, and then steppe again. Burial mounds were differing from the hills. It seemed, that they were proud to be connected to some historical mystery.
   - Let us go through the Saint Cross Fort! - said Andrey Andreyevich to Arykshoo. The latter shrugged his shoulders. Why make a detour? Maximov did not explain. But as soon as they reached that fortress, he ordered the cannon and ninety Cossacks of the convoy to stay there.
  -- Ten of you and ten of us. And the maidens. That will be much faster.
   And he was right. The miles after Saint Cross fortress were running, not dragging. To pass time, Maximov, though usually laconic, started a conversation with Dabech and Arykshoo.
   - I know you do not like us. Sure, what would be the reason to like Russians? We have occupied your most fertile lands, we have destroyed many auls. We have built fortresses on the Kabardin land.
   - Not only Kabardin. You did so all over Caucasus. - Dabech interrupted.
   - Right you are! All over Caucasus! What will happen next now?
   - You will have to go. If you go of your own accord, we will send you an embassy, as we did in the times of Temryuk. With peace. And you will return as our teachers, to educate the people, to teach our children writing and reading.
   - Oh! If I had such power... - the old soldier sighed.
   They continued their way without stops in the villages they passed. When the time was right for a stop, they made a camp in the steppe. The girls were unpretentious travelers. When they were bored, they left the cart and mounted their white mares Bzu and Bzhe and galloped around the caravan.
   - Let them gambol a little, - Maximov approved them.
   But Arykshoo each time made a sign to his nephews and they rode after the girls, guarding them.
   As was settled, Azhgiri Kushuk with his friend Ali Hartsij were waiting for their column in the appointed place. When Kushuk's scouts reported, that the escort is already close, he sent the carts with Katherine's belongings to Armavir aul under an enhanced guard. He also sent his men to the Nogays and bought several sheep. At the time of the convoy's arrival the traditional food of the Adyghe travelers - boiled lamb, leps* and pastah were ready.
   The greetings exchanged by Kushuk and Arykshoo, contained moral aspects, expression of mutual disposal and friendly unity.
   - Welcome - said Azhgiri, pressing his fist to his heart.
   - Live long, apshi! - answered his guest.
   Then their greetings were followed by usual questions about health and state of
   _____________
   *leps (shoorpa) - meat bouillon
   affairs. "How are you? Healthy, I hope? "The answers were quite formal: "I am all right. I am healthy. Thank you"
   At their lunch they talked about the road, which the caravan surmounted, and about those days of waiting, which Kushuk and Ali spent, guarding the carts with Katherine's belongings. They discussed a lot of topics.
   - What conditions we will put to general Shaitan? - Hartsij asked. - How we will return the girlie to her father?
   Everybody looked at Maximov. Andrey Andreyevich understood, that his time has come.
   - Pago requested to return the girl unconditionally.
   - Pago's word is a law to us, but I have my own opinion - Azhgiri noted.
   - What is your opinion? - alarm was detectable in the captain's voice.
   - Here it is... Let the general and men of his garrison come out of the fortress to meet the carts with gifts and the girl. Only Cossacks, headed by our koonak Maxim and yesaul Hivin will come to the fortress gates. Our ten Kabardins will make a horsemanship show for the general Shaitan and his people and will be dismissed after that. These are our conditions.
   - I think that the general will agree to them! - Maximov was visibly relieved by the simplicity of the problem. - And what will be the conditions of your safety, which you require?
   - Nothing. The word of general Shaitan means nothing. He is not a man of honor. He cannot compare even to Yermolov or Velyaminov. Those are evil gins, but they would keep their word. I do not believe him.
   - And what if... Maximov began.
   - We knew our risks, -Arykshoo said sharply. - But if you, koonak Maxim, will feel something fishy, just make a sign, waving this... He came to his horse and took out of his saddlebag a red bashlik. He handed it to captain, and Maximov tied it around his head as the tradition required.
   - This means peace, - he said. - But if I will take it off and wave it, you will know, that it means danger.
   On the plains the evening turns into night not so, as it happens in the mountains. The tired sun was petting the earth, it was light, and then suddenly, as a candle, blown out to go to sleep, it is not any more, and it is dark. The camp is sleeping, ready for alert any moment. The sentries are vigilant on their post every side of the camp. Kathy shook Daha's shoulder:
   - I will go to him, - whispered she to her young friend, pressing her finger to her lips.
   Kathy took everything off, and put on a yellow kanaus - long shirt -janeh - that she prepared just for this occasion beforehand. In that shirt and in soft yellow boots she disappeared into the night. The moon hid behind a cloud. The night was silent and fearsome. The heart was beating loudly in maiden breast. Sometimes it seemed, that the heart was beating at the very throat, and the girl was afraid, that her heartbeat would wake up the sensitive Kabardins. The experience she gained during her life among the highlanders helped her to find Dabech easily among those, who escorted her. Kathy touched his cheek with her palm. It was enough to wake him up momentarily and aim his pistol at the unknown figure. Kathy pressed his palm to his mouth.
   - Hush! It's me, Kateh. Come with me.
   Dabech followed. She took him far from the camp, where the Kuban bank was an unspoiled meadow, full of flower fragrance and butterflies. Somewhere there, in the place that her soul selected, she fell on the meadow grass, dragging Dabech after her. Their lips met, and their arms twined. She made only one movement to shake the silk of the shirt away. The moon was peeping at them from behind the cloud first, but then modesty was overpowered by curiosity, and the full light of the night luminary filled the world with pure energy, and lit the meadow, greeted by the crickets. Kathy's jasmine body was dressed in silvery hues. Her thighs trembled and beat like a trout, fished out of a mountain stream. The girl felt her breasts growing firm with desire. Below, there, where the belly ends, she felt some unknown and tagging feeling. Her heavy ash blonde plait got loose, and her fine soft hair mixed with the field flowers. Her moan trembled in Dabech's ears, torturing their bodies with small daggers of passion. He tried to stop that moan with his lips, but the cry of desire sounded, breaking through the clenched teeth, making their bodies comply with the single call of passion. At last Kathy cried out in paroxysm of her sweet pain and that cry pierced the silence of the Kuban meadow with its crickets, flower fragrance and the soft splash of the river. Now they were lying on their backs with faces turned to the starry sky. Bech wanted to cover her nakedness with the silk of her shirt, but Kathy stopped his hand.
   - No!
   The ability to reason, previously fogged by passion, slowly returned to Pago's son.
   "What have I done? What she did to me? What will happen now?"
   Kathy, guessing his thoughts and taking all the blame on herself, said:
   - Do not torture yourself. It should happen three years ago. I waited. And if you succeeded to make me that Kateh you all wanted to have, that was only the result of my love for you.
   - But I had no right to that happiness, - Dabech said in a low voice.
   - Love always has no rights and it is always boundless, -the girl answered.
   - I forgot myself, I forgot everything in the world.
   - That is real love.
   Dabech again tried to cover the body of his beloved, but again she repulsed his attempt.
   - Don't!
   Putting her head on Bech's shoulder, she said:
   - Passions make even the stupid people wise.
   - And the wise people - stupid?
   The night bird flew very low over them. Kathy instinctively tried to cover
   her nakedness, as if getting shy in the presence of that bird.
   - Bech, - said she with an imploring intonation - I want to hear from you, that you love me, because the utmost happiness in this world is to know that you are loved by your beloved one.
   - Then consider yourself a happy person. I cannot imagine my life without you. How will I return from the raid without coming to see you? How will I enjoy any feast, if I will not find your eyes? How can I dance "Kafa" without you?
   Kathy, standing upright in the moonshine, was ravishingly beautiful in her nakedness. Bech couldn't take his eyes off that magic.
   `What a happiness - to love and be loved" - he thought.
   The young warrior felt a wild honey taste of her lips.
   Kathy bent down, took her shirt and began to pull it on her naked body.
   - Wait! - asked Dabech suddenly. But the girl shook her head:
   - No! Nobody must see us. Let it be our common secret. But remember: you are responsible for me from now on.
   - There is no such lock, which I will not open for you, - Bech answered. - Neither Zass' cannons, nor Cossack sabers will stop me.
   - No bloodshed needed. I will come to you myself. Like tonight.
   And she dissolved in darkness.
   "If this is a dream, why I am not in the camp, but here, on the bank of Kuban?" -Bech thought. He touched the grass, crushed flat beside him. Nobody. He fell face down on that place, where his beloved Kateh was with him just now and for the first time in his life he rebuked Hagoor, his atalyk - "Why did not you teach me to cry?"
   Kateh's gifts, loaded on three carts, were waiting at the walls of the Strong Trench Fort, when Maximov's detachment, escorting Zass' daughter and Dahawos, slowly moved trough the narrow streets of Armavir aul. Chercesogays, children and adults, were standing behind their wattle fences, looking at this occasion with curiosity. Everyone knew who is the main figure in the column. Kabardins were on their guard. The nerves were taught, as the strings of shikapshina. Any moment everyone was ready to uncover his rifle and shoot. The saddle pistols were loaded. Every horseman had two pistols tucked into his belt at his back. But they knew, that all this was barely enough to sell their lives dearly.
   Dabech, looking sharply at the upturned faces of the people, standing along the aul streets, thought about his father: "Why did he permit all of his sons to participate in one expedition? Moreover, his only brother Arykshoo is also here. Who will head the clan, if we will not return from the Strong Trench Fort?"
   It was an old tradition in the Amysh aul, that when a son was born in a family, they planted near the house a fruit tree. That tree was cherished and looked after with utmost care. The parents, mothers especially, talked to that tree, calling it by the name of their son. Since it was considered improper to show openly the feelings of love and affection to the child, they satisfied their longing by loving that tree. Malichipkh planted seven pear trees on the sunny side of their saklia. They were Dabech, Badyn, Kaitsuk, Nasren, Panuko, Khamisha... And the youngest one - Jelihstan.
   The mother watered these trees, applied natural fertilizers. She did not entrust it to unauts. She was happy to see the trees blossom. And the fruits from those trees she sent to the old, sick and wounded people, gave to the children and sent to the church. When someone of her sons was absent, she came to that tree, petted the stem, touched the branches. And prayed, prayed...
   Dabech knew it all. And couldn't understand his fathers decision. "How could he send us all on one dangerous mission?"
   His thoughts were interrupted by yesaul Hivin.
   - You know, prince, we have thought about this entire affair with our Cossacks...
   Bech really noticed, that the Cossacks were discussing some seemingly important matter during their short stop, but then grew quiet, as if coming to a common decision.
   - So, we decided, - yesaul continued, - that if you will be attacked by Zass, consider us on your side - our rifles, our shashkas and pistols. Of course, we understand, that we will not escape alive, but at least it will not be an easy victory for the general.
   - What's in it for you? - Dabech asked. - The life is dear to the warrior, as it is dear to a plowman, to the old man and to the youngster.
   - But not at any price. What we will tell to our oldsters in our village, if we return home safe, leaving you to die here.
   - Well, it's not customary to thank for such a decision, koonak, - said the prince simply, as if talking about a hunt or a horse. - But I will never forget this noble act. My grandfather Amysh said: "The best of all in this world is honesty." We all must ask ourselves once in a while "Am I honest?"
  
   Cossacks! The Russian kingdom appeared on the Caucasus, when the Cossacks appeared on the banks of Terek.
   Cossacks! You have become a new power of Russia's influence here. After the Czar's detachments moldered, like the beans from the Slavic necklace, under the strikes of the Tartar Hordes the Terek lands attracted freedom -lovers from all over Russia. They occupied the lands on the outskirts of Russian Empire, bristling at the sight of highlanders, who were the masters of those lands. They were looking at Moscow with hope, kissing the holy cross to swear their loyalty to Russian Czar. They were quite sincere, when they said: "We are like orphans without our father -Czar." And they sang:
  
   Oh, our father, the orthodox Czar!
   What you will present to us to make us glad?
   -I will present you, my dear Cossacks,
   with a free great river, Terek -The Dragon's son*
   Which flows from the very heart of the mountain range,
   Until it reaches the waves of the blue Caspian Sea.
  
   Hivin took his place in the column. The bridge over Cuban was visible ahead.
   An officer from the fort's garrison approached Maximov.
   - Staff captain Galkin. By orders of my commander I well escort you.
   _____________
   *the Dragon's son -the river Terek takes its headwaters from Kazbek, a dragon mount in the Adyghe epic.
   - That is fine, captain. Good of your commander. When we traverse the bridge, the djigits will remain there, while the tarantass with the maidens, Cossacks and me will continue to move further, to the Fort's walls. And abstain from any tricks behind Kabardins' backs, like a surprise attack. There will be a great trouble. I will consider myself personally insulted, captain, since my officer's honor will be soiled.
   - How could you imagine anything of that kind! - Galkin was offended. - I am an officer from an ancient gentry family.
   - Here it is of no importance.
   - What is of importance, then?
   - The djigits have arrived. They must depart intact. And, by the way, are the general and his senior officers waiting outside the Fort's gates, as it was agreed?
   - Exactly as it was agreed. All are waiting for Katherine Grigoryevna. May I address to her?
   - If you please, captain.
   Galkin rode closer to tarantass.
   - Dear Katherine Grigoryevna! Sweet! How glad I am to see you alive!
   - Oh, Galkin! You were promoted to the captain's rank, I see!
   - Yes, not long ago, Katherine Grigoryevna...
   Maximov stopped their discourse:
   - It's high time for us to resume movement. We will have enough time for talking.
   On the other side of Kuban their detachment divided in two. Andrey Andreyevich and the Cossacks followed the tarantass, while Arykshoo with his nephews, Kushuk and Hartsij stopped on the riverbank.
   - Well, we have arrived, - Arykshoo said.
   - We still have to show general Shaitan and his officers, what Adyghes can do on a horseback! - Kushuk said.
  -- Why bluff? We have come not for that show, but to impress on the general
   "We do not fear you, Shaitan!".
   Grigori Hristoforovich kept his word and came out of the central Fort's gate, accompanied by nearly all population of the Strong Trench Fort.
   - Red -carpet reception - as Yermolov himself was met! - Hivin said to Maximov.
   - We shall see, what we shall see - answered Maximov cautiously. He still feared some dirty trick of Zass. But the aim was very close, and Andrey Andreyevich rode rakishly to the commander of the Kuban Line on his Kabardin stud and began to report.
   - Oh, captain, stop it! Let me embrace you! I was waiting for this occasion for too long a time. Now my wish is fulfilled. You are a messenger of joy, Maximov. I won't forget this.
   From the tarantass, holding high the hem of her gorgeous dress, Kathy was running to meet her father.
   - Papa! - she cried with joy, embracing the general's neck.
   Is it possible to describe a meeting of parents with their daughter, which was in captivity for three long years? Shouts of happiness, sighs, and tears.
   At last Kathy found a moment to present Daha to her parents:
   - This is my best friend and my sister - princess Dahawos from the clan of Amysh.
   - Oh, yes, I have heard much about that bandit. He and his people troubled us a lot on the Line.
   The silence fell, as after a cannon salvo.
   - She is my friend and our guest, papa . She deserves proper respect.
   - What a respect may I have to those bandits? - Grigori Hristoforovich talked, not supposing for a second, that Kabardin princess has a good command of Russian language.
   Blood rushed to Daha's head. She turned and ran to her snow -white Bzhe, tied to the rear of the tarantass. But Kathy caught her up and hastily whispered in her ear:
   - For the sake of our love and friendship, for the sake of our future, excuse the roughness of my father. All will be well...
   - Does she understand Russian?
   - Yes, papa! Beg a pardon from the princess.
   - Well, I did not mean anything vicious! That is a soldierly habit! Frankly speaking, your friend is a most pretty maiden! I will be glad to have her as my guest in the Strong Trench Fort and in Yekatherinodar.
   At that moment ten Kabardin horseman appeared near the gates.
   - What is this show about? - general was surprised.
   - It was all settled in the conditions of Katherine Grigoriyevna's return. The Kabardins, showing their respect to you and the garrison, will demonstrate their famous horsemanship acrobatics. That was their one and only condition, -Maximov reminded.
   - Well, nothing doing... let them show...
   - Let them show what? - Maximov was amiss.
   - Show their respect, as you said.
   Maximov waved his hand to Arykshoo and the show began. Such dressage is unique, only Kabardins do that. In full gallop the riders were standing fully erect with their legs on the saddle, raised a hat, thrown on the ground, sot the target from under the horse belly, ran alongside the galloping horse and jumped into the saddle without stirrups...Circassian dressage is certainly unique in the world Suddenly Hartsij separated from the group of horsemen, rode to the soldiers, standing in line, grabbed one of them up and rode away with his trophy. Everybody froze from such a prank.
   - What? What is this? Take out a cannon and fire shrapnel to teach these insolent bandits!
   Two cannons, hidden behind the mob for just such an "occasion", were rolled forward. Hartsij, riding away fifty yards, returned, and put the soldier exactly in his place in the line. But the general was reluctant to cancel his order.
   - Mount horses! - Hivin commanded his Cossacks.
   Ten his horsemen were in their saddles in a moment and took out their rifles.
   - If general Zass will not cancel his order, we will annihilate the cannon crews and join the Kabardins!
   - Your Excellency! - Maximov rushed to the general. - That was a part of the show! It is an element of acrobatic dressage! They just wanted to demonstrate their daring and horsemanship!
   - I will teach them daring and horsemanship! - the general bellowed.
   But Kathy riding her white mare Bzu was already between the line of cannon fire and Kabardins. She was turning the horse this way and the other, interfering with the artillery salvo, which could kill her, too. Dahawos was at her side in a moment.
   Andrey Andreyevich held a pistol behind his back.
   "Now, if he will not cancel his order, I will kill him and then I will shoot myself with the second pistol". He took his red bashlik and waved it over his head.
   The general, understanding what a danger to his daughter the shrapnel salvo will be, shouted to the cannon crews:
  -- As you were! Extinguish the wicks!
   Kathy was shouting to the Kabardins at the top of her voice:
   - Ride away! Hurry! They want to fire guns at you!
   Daha was going to catch up with her compatriots, but the general's daughter blocked her road:
   - If you will leave me now, I will kill myself with this dagger, Dabech's gift! You know I will!
   Dahawos' head drooped. She reined Bzhe.
   Kabardins, getting in one group, got their horses on the hind legs and were gone, waiving good -by to the girls with their fur hats. Kathy and Daha rode slowly to the Fort.
   - What was the meaning of your militant statement, yesaul? -general Zass addressed to Hivin.
   - Our primary task was to defend Your Excellency from abreks in case of their attack!
   - Ah! I see! - mumbled the general significantly.
   - Yesaul Hivin is the best officer of N fortress, - Maximov intervened.
   - I noticed that! Well, that is that. God bless us! Welcome to, my house, captain! And you also, yesaul! The table is served already. We were waiting for our guests.
   But Andrey Andreyevich rejected the invitation, understanding, that by this he is rejecting the promised award, too:
   - It is absolutely impossible for us and the Kabardins to return home separately. Without us they would be cut to pieces by Russian troops. We also would not pass safely - the abreks will massacre us.
   - That's the Russian army, see? A captain rejects an invitation to the general's party. As if it is quite natural... Well, God bless you, captain Maximov! Nothing can spoil for me the joy you have brought with you.
   "You have spoilt it as much as possible, damned owl!" - thought Andrey Andreyevich. But his lips pronounced habitual words: glad to serve His Excellency. He saluted (for this ceremonial occasion he changed his favorite fur hat for a formal service cap), turned formally - about face! - and was happy to ride away with the Cossack detachment to catch up with the Kabardins.
   - Good luck to you, dear Andrey Andreyevich! - Kathy shouted her farewell words to the old soldier.
   Dahawos stayed in the enemy's camp.
   "What the fate has in storage for me? Captivity? May be, they will sell me on a slave market? - but she put these thoughts aside. - No, Kateh is with me!".
   Andrey Andreyevich with yesaul Hivin, and ten Cossacks dashed to catch up with the Arykshoo band. That took time. Those Kabardins took too rapid a pace. The first to see the Cossacks catching up was Hartsij. Rising on a high bank of Vardanes to have a look around, he noticed the small band of horsemen, riding at full tilt and following them.
   - We have a pursuit - he said to Arykshoo, coming down from observation point.
   - Are they numerous? - the leader of the band asked, feeling that he is ready to boil from indignation.
   - May be ten. May be slightly more.
   - A strange pursuit, don't you think? Shaitan is not so silly. Will he send a dozen pursuers after a koop of Abreks?
   - Strange, sure!
   - Hey, Jelihstan, go and meet our guests, hurrying to meet with us.
   Hartsij made a gesture to stop the youth, but Arykshoo did not leave him any chance: - Let him go and meet them. This is Maxim with his Cossacks. Shaitan wouldn't send such a tiny detachment to pursue us. He knows, that any one of us would finish that band alone from an ambush.
   By that time Jelihstan was already riding to meet the group in question.
   - Badyn! - Arykshoo ordered - watch their meeting!.
   Badyn rushed to the hillock and soon they heard his voice:
   - They are close... they meet... they are talking...they are moving in our direction together.
   - What I told you? - the leader addressed Hartsij. But nevertheless he ordered all the horsemen to be on alert.
   Soon Maximov with his companions were standing in front of Kabardins.
   - My, my! Were you quick! - he said to Arykshoo. - We hardly caught up with you.
   - Why did not you stay to be a guest of the general? He surely was obliged to put some gold into your pockets, and he promised an order, did not he?
   Maximov explained to him the situation, which developed by Zass' fault at the Fort walls in short terms. Kabardins surrounded him and were listening attentively. Captain's good Kabardin made their exchange easy.
   - It means that yesaul kept his word! - Dabech said.
   - What word? - Arykshoo did not understand his nephew.
   - The Cossacks promised, that in case of necessity they with all their rifles, pistols and shashkas would be on our side!
   The Kabardins murmured approving words. Arykshoo approached Hivin, pressed his right fist to his heart and said, bowing his head:
   - Such things are never forgotten. And there are no thanks, since people did not invent the words, expressing our gratitude in full measure.
   - No need to thank - yesaul answered. - I am sure, that you would do the same for us. There is only one way of honor. It is one for all.
   The prince nodded.
   - It's high time to go, however - Azhgiri Kushuk interfered. - Zass may change his mind to let us go, God help us! What we will do against an ambush of his plastoons?
   - Plastoons will be too slow to catch us up, they are not mounted.
   - But the messenger may warn the posts ahead. There are many places excellent for an ambush ahead.
   Plastoons were special Cossack scout troops. They got their name from a special crawl they developed to move covertly, plastering flat on the ground. They were called "wolf muzzle and fox tail" - they could stalk the enemy and define, how many horsemen went this way, and how many foot soldiers. And they were as good at the ambushing, as the Circassians. Each of them could wait for the enemy for days and nights round, to make a single shot. It was enough. To be a real plastoon, one had to be able to clear out his footsteps and all traces, to move noiselessly in the dry forest.
   They were on their way again. The patter of the hooves, the silent tension of the riders. What is waiting ahead? They were not using a road. Kuban steppe without bounds. Only the horses with their horsemen know the point of destination. Only they know the ways they are riding along. Hunchbacked shades slither on the ground. Here are the Cossacks. They ride in pairs. Their native village is waiting for them. With mamukas and their beloved. Chihir is fermenting in the cellars, waiting for a time of leisure. The breeze cooled the faces of the riders and blew away. The green breeze. Or red, may happen? May be it will change into a rainbow above the plains, above the steppe.
   - Hey, brothers! - yesaul shouted to his Cossacks - Are you sad? We have nothing to grieve yet! Have you forgotten our habit to sing?
   And a Cossack song hung high over the Kuban plain.
   Here are the Kabardins. The dagger at the belt, two powder pouches, small boll for the rifle oil. The rifle, shashka, two pistols. They differ from the Cossacks by their posture in the saddle. No way to defraud the nature. The Cossacks adopted the dress and the weaponry of highlanders. And you are not a Cossack without a Kabardin horse, for sure. But more than the shashka and the Circassian saddle the Terek Cossacks cherished the custom of koonaks.
   Inspiring his Cossacks to overcome the dreariness of a long ride, Hivin rode close to Maximov and Arykshoo.
   - They are singing!
   - Fine! -Andrey Andreyevich intoned. - The song is a soul healer in joy or woe, plowing or fighting. And it is priceless during the long ride.
   Then Maximov and Arykshoo began a discourse, which may happen either in a heated discussion, or on a long road.
   - I have heard, that your general Red* was awarded an Order? - prince asked.
   - Red? - asked the captain.
   - Yes...
   - Ah! - Andrey Andreyevich remembered the nickname of Velyaminov - Yes, he got the Order of the Saint Vladimir, second degree.
   _ - Do you know what for?
   - The Czar awards this Order for valor. For skill in combat operations.
   - He, general Red, burnt the Kabardin aul of prince Karamurzin. And killed a thousand of women and children. Is this the special skill and valor?
   - You know, prince, - Andrey Andreyevich answered - that we may become ______________
   * red - general Velyaminov was a red -haired man
   aberrant in this discourse. I am a combat officer. I wage war against mutinous highlanders. For this I receive my pay from the sovereign. I am serving honestly for that pay. Now about the general you mentioned... Here Maximov stammered.
   - You see, koonak Maxim, - Arykshoo said - it is difficult for you to justify general Red. The white Czar did not order him to wage war against the defenseless oldsters and children, I am sure?
   Silence fell. It was becoming more and more prolonged. Arykshoo was the first to break it:
   - But you personally, koonak Maxim, wouldn't kill children for the sake of an award, would you?
   - Right you are, Arykshoo, right you are. We are all in God's hands.
   - You are a good man, captain. Good to fight with and good to make friends with.
   - But why fight with me? - laughed the captain
   - The war is the war, - prince answered.
   - Do you know what the Czar demands from the highlanders? What is the cause of this war?
   Arykshoo shrugged his shoulders:
   - The Czar demands submissiveness from the Caucasians.
   - The Czar wants you to leave your mountain auls, and promises to preserve your privileges and traditions in compensation for that. He promises not to tax you. He will free all Caucasian prisoners, but you also must free all your prisoners. And you demand all the Russian troops to retreat to the northern bank of Kuban River. You want to demolish all our fortresses. You are a warrior, Arykshoo. Do you consider your demands acceptable to us?
   - You have no choice.
   - You want to hang the deer horns on the wall of your saklia. But that deer still grazes on the forest glade. Don't hurry. We are a big and powerful country. And we are extending to you our arm of help and friendship.
   - A small tree pines away in the shade of a great one.
   - The highlanders could become friends to our sovereign, - captain pretended not to hear the last remark of the prince.
   - Do the Czars ever have friends? - Arykshoo was surprised.
   Maximov was reluctant to continue their discourse.
   - Every one of us will give an answer for his deeds to the God almighty, - said he and was silent. The detachment was passing a small lake and the captain, desiring to change their topic, said:
   - The horses have to be watered...
   Arykshoo laughed:
   - You know, that it is not good to allow the horses to drink midway.
   - Then let us have a respite in the shade.
   An old oak was leaning to the water of the lake. It was tired and rugged. Dry, most probably, long ago. The age and maladies bent his proud head low. Arykshoo, dismounting, touched the dead tree, looking sadly at dark empty nests.
   Beside, the young oaks were rustling their leaves, forgetting about the old tree.
   "There are no leaves on your branches, - prince talked mentally to the tree. -The sun will not wake you up at dawn. The moon will not pet your curls at night. And the stars, like birds, will not fly down to your nests".
   The only green patches on the old tree were the lichen, and the gnats were swirling about. The indefatigable ants were busy at their incessant work. The wind strokes the leaves of the young oak grove. They rustled happily.
   "Every one comes to his own end, - Arykshoo thought. - But the life does not cease for that. The old oak died. The young ones rustle their leaves".
   - What are you talking about with that tree? - Dabech asked, riding close to the prince.
   - We have a lot of common secrets.
   It was decided to have a rest here, on the lakeshore. The Cossacks cut several branches of the dry oak, made a campfire and cooked millet soup with the dried mutton. Arykshoo declined to eat.
   "How can I eat that soup? - he thought. - it was done on the fire, which burned the branches of the tree, with which I made friends just recently".
   He took out a pouch with the millet flour. Made a small ball of dough in his own palm and baked a tiny loaf of bread on the hot coals. Cutting a piece of the dry mutton, he had a bite of that for a lunch.
   - We will have to make another detour - yesaul Hivin addressed Arykshoo.
   - Why? - the prince was surprised.
   - We have to take our gun we left in the Saint Cross Fort. And the Cossacks are waiting there, remember? Ninety of them!
   - Oh, yes.
   They stayed in the Saint Cross for a day and a night. The horses needed rest. And people were tired, too. They bathed in the river, ate their full of cabbage soup, porridge and beef. The Cossacks drank chihir. The Kabardins abstained, as usual.
   In the morning the Cossacks cleaned the cannon until the copper shined in the sun.
   - We are ready to depart now - said Hivin.
   Yesaul and Dabech became friends. And the friends always have some matter to discuss.
   - I understand - Bech was saying to his new friend - that you settled on our lands and they became yours.
   - I was born on Terek - yesaul agreed.
   - Well, live happily, bring up your children. There is enough place for everyone. The Piatigorye region was seized by the Russians. What happened? Nothing. We are still alive. We can manage without the Terek steppes where you settled, too. But the offence is there, deep inside. That offence will not be extinguished by prayer, it will not die out all by itself. Some time or other, it will flood our soul, like the mountain river floods the valley.
   - We can live side by side. The steppe is great. Enough place for everybody. -Hivin was stubborn.
   - It is all right until we manage to solve all our problems peacefully. So far we could not. I remember a Kabardin saying: "If you give an ox to a serf, and he will not ask for another, give him one more. But if he will demand another, take the first one away from him." You, the Cossacks, must remember that.
   - Kabardins are good at reasoning.
   - He, who believes in the truth, has a clear face. - Bech said. - We speak the truth.
   - Our oldsters say: "It is better to light up a lamp, than to curse the darkness." - Cossack answered.
   - And our oldsters say; "From afar the funeral repast may look like a wedding". -Dabech said.
   - But we are not looking on our relations from afar.
   - We'd better... Every day we shoot each other from the ambush, slash each other with a sword, drive each other's herds away, kidnap people...
   - All will pass. All will remain in the past. We will live side by side. Together. My father with your prince Chercassky went to the Caspian Sea on a Czar's mission. They were doing a common deed. How can we forget that?
   Dabech rode beside the Cossack and thought: " I fell in love with the Russian girl, the daughter of our enemy. So what? My love did not turn bitter for that. We have many koonaks among the Cossacks. We share our bread, pastah and salt at one table. The food does not get bitter for that, either. We have to stop this war. Amysh dreamed of that day, my father Pago wants it, prince Kuchuk strives for it. And this yesaul also speaks about the peace. He is not lying. Just now we saw, that the Cossacks were ready to sacrifice their lives for us. Who wants this war? The fire of the feud dies out now to flash up anew tomorrow" - Dabech thought. But aloud he said:
   -It is difficult to judge a man correctly, if you did not travel with him. You have become my personal friend, koonak. I will never forget what you with your villagers did.
   - But this is a Kabardin saying: "If you did something good for your friend, forget it. Remember, if your friend did something good to you".
   - Yes, this is our true belief.
   - Well, right you are. I already forgot about that affair at the walls of the Strong trench Fort.
   - But I will remember it, - Dabech said, taking off his belt a pistol of a filigree workmanship. It was once presented to him by the Moslem population of Amysh aul as a token of their special respect. - Take this as a memento of our friendship.
   - It will serve me well in our future common expeditions, - yesaul said, accepting the gift. Then he took off a Christian amulet from his neck and said:
   - This is to you, koonak! My mamuka put it there to guard me.
   - No! - the young prince was reluctant - how it is possible to take your mother's gift from you?
   - Do not worry. She will understand. She will make me another. This amulet was already tried in the combat. It will guard you from the enemy bullet. - With these words he hung the small leather pouch on his new friend's neck.
   Time will prove the rightness of the yesaul's words. The bullets will avoid Dabech. Was it the amulet's influence?
   By that time they reached the Digulipkh stone.* All dismounted. Off course! That was a sacrificial stone. Nobody passed it. The giant stone, spewed by fire - breathing Oshkhamaho, lay on the road. Scorched, blackened.
   Arykshoo sent his nephews Badyn and Nasren for the lambs:
   - There, on the hill, a herd is grazing. Ask them to sell us four rams. Pay them twice the price they will ask.
   Soon the rams were slaughtered, skinned and cut, their carcasses were wrapped in their own skins and put into the pits with fire beneath and above.
   - I heard about this way to cook a lamb, but never tasted it before - Hivin said.
   _________
   *Diguliph stone - a great volcano boulder in the basin of Baxan river, a sacrificial altar
  
   - Good! - Maximov answered, - it will be another gain from this trip.
   - What is the first? - inquired yesaul.
   - That is your life, which you saved at the walls of the Strong Trench Fort. Is it a gain to neglect?
   Everybody laughed.
   After the ritual nourishment, they continued their way. When the time came to part, each of the Kabardins presented a Cossack with a dagger, pistol or a decorated powder pouch as a memento of this trip.
   - All of you became koonaks of the Amysh aul dwellers - explained Arykshoo to Hivin's comrades.
   That was a parting word. Kabardins stood on a burial mound, looking as the Hivin's Cossacks and Maximov were mingling into the line of horizon.
   They returned to their aul on the Virgin Mary's day. Riding close to the church, mounted as they were, they prayed to Mariam, as they could...
   At a prince's house Pago came out. He asked:
   - Was your affair good, successful?
   - Be healthy and saint, let the God bless you! - Hartsij answered for all of them.
   They narrated their experience to the old prince.
   Hearing about Zass, Pago said:
   - The goat cannot become a sheep, as the sheep will never be a goat.
   Ali Hartsij, Azhgiri Kushuk and Arykshoo were invited to Pago's house. The others went to the koonak parlor in the next saklia, where a treat was waiting for them.
   Malichipkh was cooking the feast food for her sons herself: khalivas* with cheese and savoury grass; cheese, boiled in cream; gedlibje, jemuko,** lakooms.
   The servants were boiling a lamb, roasted a young goat in a special, Amysh way.
   ______________
   *halivas -cakes with cheese and savory grasses.
   ** jemuko - Adyghe dish of corn flour, cream and cottage cheese
  
   By that time the guests and his brother told Pago about the details of the
   concluded affair.
   He was especially pleased by behavior of yesaul Hivin and his Cossacks.
   - Tomorrow send Jelihstan with uzdens to the fortress. They must present every one of the Cossacks with a Kabardin thoroughbred. Yesaul and koonak Maxim deserve a shagdi from my herd each.
   - Is it really necessary to do it tomorrow? -Arykshoo asked his brother. - Jelihstan is tired.
   - The youth is happy, because it does not know tiredness, - answered the old prince.
   - Jelihstan commended himself in this affair as a man, who is not roaming in the orchard of pleasantries, but as a youth in a sacred forest. He is ripe to become a real man, - Hartsij said.
   - He is a real man already, - Azhgiri intervened.
   Pago, who was not supposed to react to kind words about his son, kept silence.
   When the dessert was served, he returned to the discussion:
   - I consent with Arykshoo. No need to hurry the horse of luck. Send the horses to the Cossacks after three days.
   He was interested in the minutest details of this affair: everybody's behavior; was the horsemanship show a success; what was the reaction of Zass; were the girls, Daha and Kateh, afraid to meet Shaitan; what koonak Maxim said about the whole enterprise...
   He was cheered up by the episode, when Hartsij jerked out a soldier from the garrison soldiers line and took him to the open field.
   - So you say that after this Zass ordered the cannons to be rolled out? - he laughed aloud - a rare occasion.
   Hartsij and Azhgiri were inveigled to stay in the aul for several days.
   - We will take in the millet harvest, make a celebration, and then you will be free to go.
   - What if by that time we will want to stay more? - Azhgiri joked.
   - We will keep you till the next millet harvest. Until we are busy, my brother and my sons will show you around. Motherland is not an aul, or the gorge, to the rocks of which our saklias lean, not only the tombs of our ancestors, even...
   - Then what is the Motherland to you, prince? - Hartsij asked.
   - O -oh! - Pago sighed. - This word contains so much: the people, who built these saklias and now prepare to take in the millet harvest; our past and our future; our language; the labor of the smith, saddler, carpet weaver, baker; our herds; swift water of our rivers and quiet water of the springs...
   - Are the guests of the Amysh aul included into your perception of the Motherland? - Azhgiri Kushuk asked.
   The prince took of his fur hat, passed his palm over his clean -shaven head unhurriedly and then answered:
   - But of course. You are our guests.
   - What if we leave your aul?
   - Leaving, each of you will take with him a part of us, the warmth of our souls, and the love for this land. But we will not become less for that. It would be worse, if you wouldn't take anything with you.
   - But is it not your, Amysh aul's proverb: "Bring when you come, leave when you go".
   - Yes, we say so. You have brought us good news, which you created yourself. Parting, you leave after you a good trace, a kind memory... On your way now!
   Addressing his brother, he ordered:
   - Arykshoo, show the guests our Motherland.
   - All of it? - Arykshoo was surprised.
   - Nobody ever can show all of it. We did not see it all ourselves. Is it possible to look inside here? - and the old prince tapped on his breast, where his tired heart was beating. - Show what you can.
   First Pago's brother took his guests to Jamada.
   - Dada, these are our guests.
   - You are welcome. I thank the great Tkha for this gift, with which he presented me in this bright hour, sending you to me.
   While the wise old man's granddaughters and the daughters -in law were serving the small tables, they began their discourse.
   - I know who you are. And I heard about your feat.
   The was a pause. Only the women were moving noiselessly, putting the exquisite delicacies on the three -legged tables. Arykshoo broke silence:
   - Pago entrusted to me to show our guests our Motherland? How do I do it?
   - Very simply. You are already fulfilling his will. I am a small particle of it. You will see the waterfalls and tempestuous rivers, rocks and eagles, herds and girls at a spring. Many other things. But you will not be able to see the most of it. Not enough time, nor enough strength. Remember some of my maxims for the time being. They are all about Motherland.
   - The youth has to be mentored, the old man - never.
   Kushuk and Hartsij nodded their agreement.
   - If an aul is burning on the opposite side of the gorge, there are tears in our eyes.
   The warrior lost in combat means mourning in his house, the loss of a weapon in combat means a nation's mourning.
   Do not hurry the horse of your time. Let it move pacing, trotting, galloping.
   Remember, that only the God and those, who compile songs, make the warriors immortal.
   Never show your weakness, because the right is on the side of the strong.
   We all were born one day, and we all will die one day.
   - And now let us eat of the food our Tkha had sent us.
   The great God was generous: deer ham, cold venison, boiled quail eggs, poultry, honeycomb, nuts and fruits...
   Girls were bringing in fresh lakooms and cakes, steaming hot Kalmyk tea.
   When did they manage to prepare all that?
   - Dada, may I ask you a question? - Hartsij asked.
   - Sure, my son. I will try my best to answer.
   - We will go soon. Some other people will visit you. Will you share with them the same thoughts you told us about?
   The old man smiled:
   - Wisdom is not a prayer. No need to repeat what you said once. But the thoughts may be similar. The old people store in attics of their memory a lot of things worthy of narration. But only the prayer is to be repeated. The prayer!
   - One more question, - said Hartsij.
   Jamada nodded.
   - What decoration you consider the most valuable for a man?
   The oldster answered without a moment's hesitation:
   - Shame.
   Then he addressed to Kushuk:
   - Don't you have any questions to ask me?
   - I hope we did not tire you...
   - Thank the Almighty! My head does not know what tiredness is. Unlike my body.
   - Then tell me, tkhamada, why people give alms to the cripples and never to the sage?
   Jamada laughed:
   - My son! Because people always may imagine themselves becoming cripples, but sage... Not always.
   They all laughed heartily. Jamada saw his guests to the wicket. It was a tradition, the law of the mountains. The guest must be escorted to the gates.
   Arykshoo brought the guests to the smithy. Here they observed the beautiful and useful things being created from the iron and the fire. Then the smith invited the guests to the koonak parlor, where the three -legged tables with food were waiting.
   -I will indulge your ear with the pleasant melody, - said Tlepsh's* follower. - I have sent for a Violin Man.
   ______________
   *Tlepsh - the god of smiths in the Adyghe Nart epic
   And the Violin Man has come. He played his violin and sang:
  
   The son of Tlepsh took me with him
   He touched the strings of violin,
   He played, and miracle - behold!
   He seemed a youth - though he was old!
  
   Walking the streets of Amysh aul, Hartsij and Kushuk looked differently on the village saklias. They knew, what kind of people could be met behind those modest clay -and -wattle walls.
   - And now our way will take us to the mountains, - Arykshoo notified them.
   - Are we not in the mountains already? - looking at the surrounding summits, asked Hartsij.
   - Of course we are. But here we deprived them of their pride. We built saklias, aqueducts, channels and roads. We will go now to the heart of the mountains.
   Pago's sons and servants were waiting for Arykshoo and the guests on the outskirts of the aul. Arykshoo took his son with him this time. Let Wazermes see what was unbeknownst to him before - the mountains in all their beauty. Nannies tried to supply their favorite with tidbits, but Arykshoo did not allow them, saying:
   - The horse, the saddle, the weapons. Nothing else.
   They all moved to that side of the gorge, where the sun is setting to rest, closing it's golden eyes. The clouds, bumping into mountains, were either torn into pieces or, grabbing the summit, stopped over it and smoked, like a campfire in the rain.
   They were riding straight, without following a path. Arykshoo's six nephews -the pride of the old Pago and of Amysh aul, knew were to direct their horses. The seventh - Jelihstan - was preparing to drive ten horses to the Cossacks in the N fortress, and two shagdis for koonak Maxim and yesaul Hivin.
   The sun poured its rays on the earth, making it shine with the diverse colors of the alpine meadow.
   - Our flowers and grasses cure people from the wounds and illness, - Arykshoo told his guests. our azeh* collect the useful flowers, leaves or stems at a certain time of the year, certain months and days.
   - And also the flowers indicate the time of the day quite correctly -Dabech joined into the conversation. - By the position of the petals not only our old people define time - even the children can do it.
   They rode past the aul's apiary.
   - This is also our Motherland, - said Arykshoo.
   The mountain meadow is burning with colors, striking the eye with the diversity and multitude of colors and odors. One cannot be silent at such a minute. That is why the highlanders sing in the mountains about the beauties and heroes, about the Narts - fairy giants, in whose existence they believe, like they believe in the sky and the rain. They sing about these clouds, when they are there, and about the sunshine, when the sky is clear.
   A white mountain stood in front of the horsemen. The domain of grandeur and beauty. A fairy tale! Pine and birch orchards, alpine plateaus, with scarlet berries and motley field flowers. And that white mountain above!
   - It resembles a big bird! - Hartsij exclaimed - Or our song!
   Again they pass colorful rocks, ford mountain rivulets of melted glacier water, see the eagles in the skies. Someone noticed a spot on the mountain slope - a sheep herd.
   - Shall we send for fresh meat? -Dabech asked.
   - What for? - Arykshoo answered - a ready lunch waits for us at our midday stopping place. May be we will shoot a fallow or roe deer on the way.
   - What if we will not? - Azhgiri Kushuk is interested.
   - Why?
   - Just because we will not meet the deer on our way. What do we do then?
   _______________
   * azeh - a healer, a quack
   - Then we will send our hunters to shoot the game. Our lunch will not become less ample for that.
   They reached the herd. The sheep and the shepherd, following their unhurried pace... Somewhere down there, far below, R. Fulton already invented "Claremont", and the railway engines frighten the peasants with their whistles, Maximillian Robespier was born and killed, Mozart has charmed the world by his music, Shiller composes poems, Decembrists have failed to prove their cause to Russia, Pushkin fell in love with Ann Kern. But here a man follows his sheep, as he was doing centuries and milleniums ago. Alpine meadow, summits shining in the sun and the sounds of the shepherd's reed...
   Arykshoo noticed Hartsij's whip. Embellished with mother -of -pearl and silver, it was a real masterpiece of the folk skill. The prince remembered the Nart song:
   - Hey -Hey! - sang he - your whip is not a real whip, since it's stem is not of hawthorn!
   Hartsij laughed. He knew that song, too:
   - My whip is a real whip, since it's stem is of a real hawthorn.
   The Kabardin tradition considered the hawthorn a sacred tree and it was a matter of prestige to have a whip with a stem made of hawthorn. Hartsij handed his whip to Arykshoo:
   - Take it as a memento of our meeting, if you liked it.
   But the prince declined:
   - My whip is also made of hawthorn -Malichipkh presented it to me. If I will accept your gift, I will have to give you my whip in return, and it will offend Malichipkh. Let every one of us keep his own whip.
   - Well, if you say so - abrek said.
   On the green plateau, thrown high in the mountains, they saw a herd of horses.
   - Hey -ho -hey! -Dabech shouted, greeting the herdsmen.
   - Hey -ho -hey! - they shouted back.
   Clean transparent air, warm rays of the sun, fragrant grass. The herd of karagozes - famous Kabardin thoroughbreds was grazing here.
   At the place of their stop Pago's son, Nasren was waiting with three servants.
   While the travelers were washing at the stream, Nasren put pieces of deer liver on skewers, adding caraway and salt and gave them to the servants. They were to hold the skewers over the hot coals, rotating them to achieve an even grill.
   - Well, that's good! - Arykshoo was glad to see the deer. - because some of us were hesitant about the fate of our lunch, if we will not shoot any game.
   - My fault, prince, -laughed Hartsij, tasting juicy and fragrant roast.
   The lamb was boiling in the caldron. Arykshoo sliced liver and tail fat thinly, made a sandwich form of two layers and handed them to the guests and his nephews, not forgetting Wazermeska:
   - Get used to our food. I doubt that your mother gave you tail fat to eat.
   - But she did! She sure did! We had lots of the fat tail black sheep. Some of them had very thick tails, - and he put his hands wide, showing rather exaggerated tail sizes.
   Everybody laughed. Wazermeska blushed.
   - Leave the lad alone, - Hartsij intervened. - Nothing special - fat with liver. Eat, young warrior. You have to have much force to grow up. This land is so beautiful, that you will have to defend it. - And he made a sweeping gesture with his hand, encircling all surroundings. - If a man does not love his native land, he is not able to love anything at all - said he with a deep conviction.
   When everyone had his full, Azhgiri Kushuk called Wazermes to come closer, and said:
   - Small egg became a big eagle, - says the song of the highlanders, - began Azhgiri. - The thin young trees became a forest. Hey, black ravens, do not circle in the sky above the battlefield! The combat horse gnaws at its bit. This is a fate of the widow's horses. That is what these mountains would sing to us about, if they could. About this and much more. About the custom of the highlanders to compose songs acclaiming men of valor. And cowardice deserves only contempt. Yes, they could tell us about all that. But the rocks are mute.
  
   - But you can tell us - Wazermes asked.
   And Azhgiri narrated:
   - In the times very far in the past, some strangers came to this land. And their ruler said: "Why should we spill the blood of hundreds of warriors? Let us select a strong man, and you select one from your side. They will compete, and the victory will show which side is the winner".
   A mighty man came out to wrestle from their side. And an old and smallish oldster - from the side of the highlanders. He said, that he wants to fight, and that he will surely win. And the fight began.
   Wazermes did not take his eyes from the storyteller, as if his own fate was at stake in that battle. Azhgiri stopped and was silent for a long time. Then he gulped a mouthful of leps.
   - What happened next? - the boy asked impatiently.
   - Their fight was long and bitter. And the old man won, because his land was giving him the forces to fight. His compatriots took his elbows and led him home. His name was Wari. And he was old, fit to be their grandfather - Dada. So they sang: Oh, Wari dada mahua! - Oh, the happy day of granddad Wari!
   Since that time most of our songs have this refrain - Waridada. That is the common refrain in the Adyghe, Allans, Sone songs, - of all Caucasians, actually. Cossacks also. The local highlanders are proud of that. Because the happiness, shared with a friend, becomes multiplied.
   - Are the Cossacks your friends?
   - Of course! Your cousin Jelihstan is now on his way to the fortress. He will present Kabardin horses to Cossack - our koonaks. They risked their lives for us. How can we be not their friends?
   Wazermes was happy. It would be very hard for him to know, that the highlanders would not consider his Cossacks, his boyfriends and seniors, friends.
   Soon they were ready to continue their way. Preparations were simple - they just tightened the saddle girths.
   - Clear up here and catch up with us, - Arykshoo told the servants. It was a tradition of the highlanders: to leave no traces of their bivouacs. It was good for the land, and it was a good habit in the time of war. They were heading to the "Mother of rivers" - Balkh. It runs for many miles, till it reaches Terek. Beginning in the Elbrus glaciers, it slowly accumulates its force. It is tempestuous even on the plains. They reached the hot springs. The waterfalls were roaring around - they spattered, ferociously threatening the horsemen. Horses slid on the wet stones, but the djigits, knowing the ford, entered the Narzan* Valley. Wazermeska, slightly frightened by this severe magnificence, kept close to his father. Arykshoo pretended not to notice the feelings, which were raging in the soul of his son, brought up in the Cossack village, far from the mountains.
   - Look, - he said - there are the meadows, the herds, flocks of sheep. There is a sheepfold.
   Elbrus was quite close now. No, it was here, beginning at your feet and dashing into the blue sky, gradually coating its rocks with ice and eternal snow. It seemed that you could touch the white summits with your hand.
   - Like fur hats - said Wazermes, indicating summits with his hand.
   - Never stretch your hand to that mountain. It does not like it, - said Arykshoo. - Indicate the direction with your eyes.
   - There... there... Fur hats... White...
   - Yes, fur hats, - agreed his father.
   They drank the silvery Narzan, bathed in the hot spring, rested in the warm, and invigorated themselves in the cold one.
   - That is enough! This water has a great strength. You may fall ill.
   He told them, that feeble, sick people are brought to this springs and after some time they go home full of life.
   - It's magic water - Arykshoo said.
   At the lunch the host proposed his guests:
   _____________
   *narzan - a mineral drinking water, different types of which are abundant in the Caucasian spas
   - Want to try your luck in hunting?
   Khartsij shrugged his shoulders:
   - It is nothing new to us.
   But Azhgiri did not leave him any chance to avoid his favorite pastime:
   - The game hunting differs from place to place. Let us see, how the chamois behave here.
  -- Same as in Karachay, Shapsughia or Circassia, I am sure! Same habits, same characters.
  -- Oh, no! No! - Azhgiri objected. - Your chamois is yours. Sure. Fallow deer,
   mountain goat, chamois - all different in different places. We will see, what is the character of the local ones.
  -- Then you have very little time left for your sleep.
  -- We did not come here to sleep.
  -- All right, then. You will check the character of our game, and we will check
   your marksmanship and endurance.
   Three local shepherds, Dabech and his brother Nasren went to mountains with the guests when the night did not intend to take the stars from the sky. Four hours of a brisk walk among the rocks on snow and ice to the very sky. Then the dawn opened sleepy eyes. Descend. Ascend. Endlessly. One of the shepherds, walking in the head of the column, raised his hand, calling for vigilance.
  -- This is a bear's footstep, - the shepherd said. - And it is fresh.
  -- No joking with this beast, - Hartsij whispered, putting his hand on the handle
   of his dagger.
   Later, when they climbed on the high rock, they saw five chamois. It was useless to shoot - they were at least at a distance of two shots.
   - Shall we walk around or will climb over? - one of the shepherds asked the guests.
   - What you usually do in such cases? - Hartsij answered by a counter question.
   - It depends on the wind. We must circle them so, that they would not smell us.
   - Then we must go straight over.
   Everybody agreed. They were all experienced mountain hunters. Each of them walked many miles following mountain paths. They knew, that this will be a difficult and tiring way, but nobody objected. They were very near their aim, when the chamois felt them and vanished.
   - Their luck - said one of the shepherds.
   - Our mistake - Azhgiri objected.
   - The wind has changed - Dabech said.
   After an hour of walking they noticed four more chamois. They were moving to the hunters, grazing.
   - Freeze! - said the oldest of the shepherds.
   The hunters deployed into a line, taking cover behind big boulders and rocks.
   The wind was blowing from the animals.
   "I hope it will not change direction this time, - prayed Dabech. If we will return without a trophy, Arykshoo will laugh at us. And how many jokes he will tell about our hunt, when we will return to the aul!"
   The chamois were slowly approaching them. By Bech's estimation, they were coming right opposite Hartsij.
   "Glory to the great Tkha! They did not smell us", - Dabech thought.
   When the distance between the hunters and the animals was right, Hartsij and Azhgiri fired their rifles. two of the goats, jumping unnaturally high, fell on the ground two others jumped aside and were shot by one of the shepherds and Nasren.
   Slaughtering the wounded animals, the shepherds began to skin them.
   - Shall we try to get the Horns of a mountain he -goat now? -Dabech asked his guests.
   - Do you want to fulfill all our desires, so that we never have to return here? - answered Azhgiri for both of them.
   With those ample trophies they returned to the camp. The descent was not easier, then climbing up. But nobody complained. Each carried his share of the cut meat .
   Arykshoo met them with joy:
   - You thought, that there's no more deer and chamois in our mountains - he addressed to his guests.
   - Nobody said that! I said, that we might be not very lucky. But this time we met them twice.
   They returned to the aul one week after their departure.
   - Well, - Pago inquired - did you know a little more about our land?
   - Oh, yes! Impossible to know everything for a mortal. But we came to know more, certainly.
   A messenger from general Otto was waiting for Arykshoo at his home. Vasily Alexandrovich sent a letter to Pago's brother. In that letter he recalled warmly those days he spent in Amysh aul. He assured Arykshoo in his friendship and confirmed once more his desire to take the son of Arykshoo - Wazermes for training.
   "He has to know much to be useful to his nation" -the general wrote.
   Arykshoo went to Pago.
   - What will we do, brother?
   - Upbringing defines the fate of the man. If you will not give your son to the general, you will have to send him to some atalyk. And he will perfect himself in shooting and weaponry. What's so special about that? We all can do it or could do.
   Only a man, who will have knowledge, an educated man may be of use for Kabarda.
   - The person of the teacher is of a great importance - Arykshoo answered.
   - The general is a scientist and a kind man. He desires peace between Russia and Kabarda, and he wants to make our boy a useful man.
   - You have seven sons. Send one of them!
   - They are too mature to begin their education from the basics. And remember, the general wants Wazermes.
   - What is your decision?
   - No. You have to take that decision - Pago was firm. - You, personally.
   - I do not wish him to repeat my life. Or yours. Or Amysh's.
   - What was so bad in our lives?
   - Ignorance.
   - Then you have made your decision. To be educated, your son must go to Russia.
   But the brothers were still hesitant. What is the right way? No one was sufficiently sure of his reasoning. Then Pago collected all the oldsters of the aul, Christians and Moslems together.
   - I want to hear from you your opinion. Should I send my nephew to Russia, or leave him here?
   The youth sings the morning songs. The elderly - the songs of the evening. They did not commence the discussion at once. They sat and were silent. Wise, serious, they knew the price of a word. Deep wrinkles furrowed their faces where their smiles shone many years ago. At last Jamada said:
   - We, the oldsters of this aul, live to be useful. We are not useful with our plows or swords. We are useful by our word.
   And their discourse began in the koonak parlor. It was like a thick honey. Slow and viscous. Their mouths opened inadvertently, as if doing a hard work. The tables with tea and sweets were brought in. The hot drink, honey and halva made them even slower, but at last they came to a common decision:
   - May be we will loose one good shashka, a rifle and a pair of pistols - Jamada said - but we will acquire... - here he stopped. Even his wisdom was not enough to list all the advantages of sending Wazermes to Russia.
   Uvajoko said:
   - Both a warrior and a sage must bow their heads before a child. The aul will acquire a man, who will not only be good in marksmanship and horsemanship, but will be aware of the events, happening in the great wide world. He will be taught to read and to write, will travel to far countries, unlike his other compatriots, who never were farther than Crimea and Mdadea.* Returning home, he will teach our children and grandchildren all the great knowledge.
   ____________________
   *Mdadea - Abkhasia
   - Greater, than our traditions? - Pago smiled.
   - We are but a small particle of the great entity - Uvajoko answered.
   - So what we do? Shall we send Wazermes to Russia or no?
   - Yes, - Jamada said.
   - Yes, - Uvajoko said.
   - Yes, - one after the other answered the others.
   Pago thanked the seniors and ordered to call in general Otto's messenger.
   He appeared immediately and stopped dead, seeing so many esteemed persons in the parlor.
   - The oldsters decided to let the boy go to Russia. They entrust his fate to general Otto.
   - Glory to our God almighty! - The messenger crossed himself, relieved.
   When the brothers were alone, Pago went to the iron -covered chest and, opening it, took out a leather bag. It was evident, that he prepared that beforehand.
   - Here are one thousand golden coins. I do not want our boy to go to the far country a poor man, which will depend on someone. Give this money to the general's messenger. Tell him to pass this money to Wazermes's Russian atalyk. Also, send with Wazermes a youth from the noble family, a young warrior. He must become Wazermes's shadow. This pouch with one hundred golden coins is for that youth. The third one, also with one hundred golden coins, is for Wazermes himself. That's all I wanted to say.
   "Old cunning fox, - thought Arykshoo about his elder brother. - He prepared everything beforehand, and played this game to make me believe that I was taking a decision".
   They sent to the Cossack village for Wazermes's mother.
   - It is difficult to make someone happy, if his mother will be doomed to suffering, - Arykshoo said, sending a horseman to the Cossack matron. - We are always indebted to only one person till we live in this world - that is our mother.
   Then he called Wazermes to his room:
   - You are going to study to Russia.
   His son was silent.
   - General Otto sent for you.
   Silence.
   - Why don't you answer?
   - You did not ask me any questions.
   - Do you want to study?
   - My desire doesn't matter. I know the laws of the highlanders. Pago and you decided that problem already.
   - It is difficult for me to send you away, - Arykshoo said. - I have only one child.
   - Then leave me here. It is so good here, in the mountains.
   - I must think about your destiny. You will learn, become a literate man, useful for your nation. What can we do? Shoot an egg from a high pole riding? To break in a young horse? Sit motionless for several days in an ambush? That's not important today!
   - What is important today, then?
   - We, the Kabardins, must absorb all the experience, accumulated by the wise men.
   - Wise men of Russia?
   - Not only Russia. Of the entire world.
   - I will try my best.
   - And I will wait... Your mother will arrive soon. Do not make it hard for her. Let her see you away with a light heart.
   He came to Malichipkh.
   - I know why you came to me.
   - Tell me what to do?
   - Nothing. Let your son go. It will be good for him. He will return to Kabarda to illuminate his people.
   - Will I see him some time?
   - No. You will not live till that day.
   - How many years will pass?
  -- I do not know their number, but you will not see your son any more. - Her words fell like stones in the water.
  -- Seems to me that I mixed up the rooms.
  -- No, you came to the right place. Listen. Only the young people do not want their fortune told. What is in the fortune telling to them? Full of strength and valor, they dream about their future feats for themselves and for the others. They believe firmly, that they are able to overcome everything. But when we become adults, we want to know what the fate has in waiting for us. We go the fortunetellers hoping, that they will indicate the only way, which leads to happiness. The youngsters are not afraid to daydream. The old ones reason, but sometimes in vain. It is easy to tell the fortune to the lucky people. Their fate is dressed in golden attire. But when that luck is all out, the golden dress turns into rags. Dirty rags.
  -- Sometimes it is better to leave everything as it is. No change at all, - said her husband's brother.
  -- Only sometimes. - Malichipkh answered. - One thing I can swear upon: your son will know the taste of luck. Is it not enough for you?
  -- The life of every one of us is written by our Creator in his Great Book - said the prince thoughtfully.
  -- But who can read that Book? Can you?
  -- No.
  -- That is our life. We live it, and we read our fate. Everyone must read his.
  -- Will I be happy then?
  -- It depends, what the fate has in stock for you. What the God wrote for you.
   Malichipkh was silent for a long time. Arykshoo waited. At last the woman said:
  -- I don't like to foretell the future.
  -- Why?
  -- Because there always are two bad news to every good one. Why should we know them?
  -- These two bad news are both mine?
  -- Do not be so cunning. The first prediction I told you was good. Your son will become a great man. He will be the best of Kabardins. What did you want to hear better than that?
  -- But I will never see him again?
   Malichipkh was silent. A fresh breeze from the mountains cooled and cheered
   the prince in Malichipkh yard.
   "Am I fearing death? - he thought. - Yes, probably so. But I do not think about it. The best moment to reason about the life and the death is in the heat of a battle. But there always is the deficit of time for reasoning in fighting".
   The time was flowing, entering the gorge and exiting it.
   Otto's messenger was notified, that they are waiting for the Wazermes's mother, to let her see her son off. He understood.
   Ustia arrived, accompanied by her uncles and her mother, Wazermes's granny. From the N fortress ten horsemen escorted them from the Amysh aul - a guard of honor.
   - The Cossacks must feel our hospitality even before their arrival to our village, - such were Pago's instructions when they were departing on their mission.
   - You called them friends and the guests. We know the obligations of friendship and hospitality.
   The guests were accommodated into the specially prepared guest saklias. Ustia and her mother were living in a separate house with four unaut women waiting on them. The inner furnishing of their rooms astonished the young Cossack woman.
   Weapons were hanging on a carpeted wall. Bedding and blankets were stacked in the corner. Rich kitchen utensils and clean dishes were positioned on the shelves. Under the shelves an iron - plated chest stood. The fireplace was not burning, but a shining copper caldron was hanging on the chimney chain.
   -Their rooms are just like ours, - Ustia said. - The only difference is that we have a stove, while they have a fireplace in the room.
  -- Our rooms are just like theirs - Agafia corrected her. - We copied our household from theirs.
  -- Is that so? - Ustia's intonation demonstrated her mistrust.
  -- Yes, daughter, it is so, believe me, - her mother said.
   As soon as the two Cossack women washed and changed after their journey,
   Malichipkh came to their room.
  -- I wanted to have a look at you long ago, - she said to Ustia. - I wanted to see,
   what a lariat was so tight around the neck of proud and unruly Arykshoo.
   Ustia was standing in front of the princess with her head low. The quiet beauty was on her face. Her blue eyes were not splashing blue waves anymore, but were still deep, even fathomless.
   - Oh, why did not you become my sister -in law, - Malichipkh was saying, - your family would be the best in aul, may be the best in all Kabarda.
   -A path of love must lead to a family, like smoke follows a flame. - Ustia answered. - There was no love. Only later, when he came to the village, I fell in love. I prayed for him to come once more to my threshold. But he was too proud. He did not want to. And now is too late. Though the heart wound is still bleeding.
  -- There is no such a word as `too late" for love - Pago's wife responded. - It has
   neither age, nor time.
   - What has it, then?
   - Itself...the love.
   Then there was a meeting with Wazermeska. Shy in the presence of the people, the son did not come to his mother to embrace her, did not say her any pleasant words. But when they were left alone, he hung on her neck. Ustia was crying. The dawn and the dusk of our life would be useless, and the noon - joyless. That is why the future of the family, of the aul or a village, the future of a country is in the hands of the mothers. With his child a mother stands beside the God. The God and the Sun.
   Arykshoo visited Ustia at the end of the first day of her stay in Amysh aul.
  -- Good evening! - the prince said simply, as if they parted yesterday.
   Her lips were not sure: to smile, to take offence or to part for a kiss.
  -- Good evening, my falcon, - said the Cossack beauty, deciding to comply with
   his authority. But he did not intend to use the grunted possibility. He sat Wazermes' mother opposite himself to discuss the problems, concerning the fate of their son.
   - We with Pago thought for a long time, not sure of our decision. but did not come to any conclusion. Then we called in the aul oldsters.
   - Thank you for remembering to call me, his mother, too. - Ustia lowered her eyes.
   - We do not consider our decision as final. - The prince either objected, or assured her. - We will fulfill your decision.
   Now Ustia raised her big blue eyes to look at Arykshoo. There was a surprise, a question and a delight in those eyes simultaneously.
   - Since what time I have a right to decide anything in your aul?
   - In the aul - no, but we are discussing the fate of your son.
   There were tears in Ustia's eyes.
   - Tell me, prince, why did not you marry
   It was the time for Arykshoo to look surprised. There was a long pause. The silence was long and oppressive.
   - I do not know how to answer your question. I just can't.
   - What if you really loved me more, than life itself, and I missed the chance of my lifetime, missed my happiness?
   - What kind of happiness is it to be abrek's wife, to pass your life waiting for him to return from the raid, to heal his wounds and be happy, that his comrades did not bring him home enfolded in his boorka?
   - Is the life of a highlander's wife any different from the life of a Cossack's wife?
   The war takes the lives of our men, too. Not all of them return home, riding. That is the war. And our fathers, husbands and sons lay somewhere far from home, with open eyes, but dead. I do not want such fate for Wazermes, our son.
   For the first time, talking to Arykshoo, she said `our son." He noticed that.
   - But by our laws, and the laws of highlanders became the laws of the Cossacks, we carry our dead from the battlefield.
   - These are the people's laws, not the God's laws, - Ustia responded.
   - The men go to the expeditions in order to return home. They do not plan to die, - Arykshoo continued.
   - But this is not their decision. That is only their desire.
   - Whose decision it is, then?
   - God's.
   The time was passing, unnoticed. She wanted to stop it, to touch it with her hands.
   - I did not know, that you are such a good father, -the Cossack matron said.
   - He who cannot fulfill the father's obligations, has no right to be a father.
   "It did not depend on you - to be the father of this child or not," - Ustia thought.
   But aloud she repeated:
   - You are a good father. I want our son to go for his education to Russia very much. There, far from the neighing of the combat horses, from pursuits and ambushes, far from bloodshed which continues for so long, that our fathers were born and grew old under the sounds of cannon and rifle salvoes, grinding of sabers... She grew silent. It is an art, too - to keep silence.
   Arykshoo smelt the fragrance of the women he loved. The odor perturbed him. He would not mistake it among thousands.
   - When all will be asleep, come to me - Ustia looked him in the eyes. - I will pay my debts. All of them. To the last.
   Arykshoo did not divert his stare. He was not surprised.:
   - People know, that the winter will come one day and even pretend to get ready for the snowfall. But they only pretend. Really each of them thinks " Eh! Those frosts will not come soon" - and do not hurry to store the firewood for the hearth, to salt the cheese in the barrels and to dry mutton in the autumn sun. True, they take in the harvest. Only because there is no any other way to stay alive. It was grown up to fill the barns. And the snowfall is always sudden. You wake up to see, that everything around is white with the snow... So I also did not expect...
   Ustia was silent. As if she was waiting for a verdict. She sat there with her eyes lowered.
   - I was young and ardent. I loved you. I went to the raids. But once I woke up...
   - And saw the snow around? - Ustia asked.
   - I was afraid, that very soon I would not break in the fast shagdis, that they will go to the raid without me. But more than that I was afraid, that I would not see you any more.
   - But were not you also afraid to see me?
   Arykshoo nodded silently. He couldn't breath. he wanted to run out into the yard, mount a horse and ride against the wind, until it burns his face.
   Ustia understood the feelings of proud and therefore vulnerable warrior.
   - Arykshoo, - she said. - You are very young. In the highlander's traditions you may be a bridegroom yet. You must not think about old age. Old age is not an age. It comes, when in your soul the desire for a feat will die, when love will go up a fireplace chimney.
   The prince did not know what to say in return.
  -- So, will you come tonight or no?
  -- Once I insulted a young Cossack girl, depriving her of her maiden honor.
  -- I do not want to insult her again, crawling secretly into her bed.
  -- Remember our tradition. Do not beat the fallen.
  -- Are you considering yourself fallen? You are as high, as Oshkhamaho. Difficult to get to.
  -- Not for you.
  -- We will see our son depart, than I will send matchmakers to you. We will make a glorious wedding.
  -- Are we not too old for matchmaking and wedding?
  -- But you said, that I am still young.
  -- I did not say those words about myself.
  -- I say so.
  -- No, prince. You better kidnap me. I will come to the place we will choose, and you will kidnap me. Press me close to your heart and let your horse carry us to your aul.
  -- No need for you to come to any set place. I will find you. There are no gates to keep me out.
  -- That is your personal gift, as I know. You are a great djigit in such matters.
  -- And in which matters I am not a great djigit?
  -- To day you were scared of a lone Cossack woman in her room...
   They laughed heartily. That laugh carried away all the worries and concerns.
   Pago received the Cossacks.
   - Wazermes is our common son: of Kabardins and Cossacks. Let us decide his fate in a common counsel.
   The uncles were making very important and serious faces, fitting to the greatness of the problem at hand. Ustia lowered her eyes, abashed to look the old prince in the eye.
   "What is he thinking about me, I wonder? - the thought drilled into her mind - probably calls me a Cossack reprobate wench?"
   But Pago, as if hearing her thoughts, addressed her:
   - Arykshoo conveyed the essence of your talk to me. But I would like to hear your opinion from you personally. You are the mother. And the mother is capable to overcome any obstacles. Joy or woe, love or hatred. We will obey your decision, too.
   Ustia got up and bowed:
   - Thank you, prince, for your kind words. Speaking of Wazermes, I bless him to go to Russia. I will pray to God for his return to his motherland with all the literacy and training he would be able to master, in order to become a useful man not only with his weapons, but with the great mind and knowledge.
   - Be it so. - Pago concluded their short meeting.
   And the aul routinely went into motion, as well -oiled mechanism. Some were collecting gifts for general Otto and the necessary belongings for Wazermes, some prepared the farewell feast. Pago's sons continued to ward aul guests - Hartsij and Azhgiri. Uvajoko was made responsible for millet harvesting - important mission, fit for a very responsible person. On the eve of the day of harvesting, Hartsij and Azhgiri visited the aul smithy and ordered two sickles of magnificent handiwork, paying for them the price of a good horse.
   - I do not ask you what you are going to do with these expensive tools - aul's Tlepsh said.
   - Why don't you?
   - Because I know. Tomorrow the reaping begins. You will award the best reapers with them.
   The entire village went out to bring the harvest in. Girls in natty dresses were preparing the lunch. The oldsters gathered on a hillock around Uvajoko to observe the progress of the work, full of sprightliness and vitality.
   Great reaping - great holiday. Songs were sung, sickles were sharpened by whetstone, and the aroma of the Caucasian cuisine spread far away from the millet fields.
   Hartsij and Azhgiri waiter till the winners in the reapers' competition were defined and awarded them with their gifts. The representative of the general Otto, Mr. Sisy, was also there. Though his name was Emmanuelle -Josef, he had absolutely no connection to the French revolutionary. Mr. Sisy insisted, that the general entrusted to him a mission - to award a winner with a golden coin. Everybody believed him, because they wanted to believe. Though Otto could not imagine, that his aide Emmanuelle -Josef will be present at a millet reaping. He personally awarded that golden coin to Shapar - the best reaper. One more golden coin Sisy presented to the best thresher - Bovoka.
   The Cossacks, accompanying Ustia, took part in the harvesting and were among the best. Ustia worked, trying her best.
   - Look, look, - said the old women, whose leader was Malichipkh - our one is not lagging behind! Ours is the best of them all!
   She sure was! Strong, graceful, slim and work -hungry. Russian women! Where from they take that natural beauty, that steppe's breadth of character, that blueness of their eyes? Here Ustia goes along the millet field with the sickle, and the thick millet stems are easily reaped, bound into sheaves, stacked. And she proceeds. She sings a song about the steppe, about bread, about lover. And though no one of the reapers can intone her song, it sounds around, spreading the feeling of peace and quiet, and glorifying the human labor.
   - Ours is a good singer! - Malichipkh says. The local women smile. They would gladly join in the singing, but they do not know the words.
   The Cossacks sent to Wazermes a very rare Kabardin thoroughbred stallion - gray with dark spots. And a white Arabian mare. Kabardin horses are mostly brown or black.
   - You will show off in Russia on these horses. Astonishing people and remembering us.
   Arykshoo also prepared a horse for his son. A raven black stallion.
   - He will become your friend. He will never betray you. But you also be sure not to abuse him. He is a part of these mountains. He will not deceive you. There is a wind of your Motherland in his mane. Remember that.
   Pago presented to his nephew rich weaponry. The sons of the old prince - a Daghestan dagger, an English pistol, and Dabech - a gurda. Wazermes kissed the blade, swearing to be loyal to his family, to his clan, to his aul, to Kabarda.
   - Are you preparing him for a battle? - Malichipkh was furious. - He is going to become a man of letters, not a sharp shooter.
   Pago calmed his wife down:
   - What else can we present to a man? If you think that some wise thoughts will be of greater use to him, that is his father's duty.
   Arykshoo, left alone with his son, told him:
   - I will not make you need anything until I live. Even after my death you will not be in need. But you must be reasonable. Remember your mother and your Motherland. There is no end or limit to wise thoughts. They are endless. But remember some of them, if you consider it worthy:
   "Only he, who sings his national songs, is the son of his people.
   If you happen to think, that you will be killed, do not go to that battle.
   If your collocutor is a hunchback, do not mention hunchbacks to him.
   Leps, spilt on the floor is not food, but a puddle.
   Never dismount a horse to saddle a donkey.
   If two people will scoop from one spring, the clear spring will become muddy.
   The weapons are necessary to make you able to trust other people.
   Every day may become the day of your glory, but may become your last day, too.
   The man knows everything. But he forgot too much of what he knew.
   Never reject remuneration, or Tkha will not send it to you the other time.
   Whatever happens on the way, the caravan must go on to the destination.
   The world is eternal. The human life is but an instant.
   Only when you have lived your life, you can say, that your gorge is the most beautiful in the whole world, your aul - the best in the world, and your saklia - the most comfortable of all the dwellings people constructed on this earth.
   Never ask another destiny. The one you have is unique, presented to you by the great Tkha.
   Arykshoo said it, and Wazermes heard it and remembered. For all of his life.
  
   After yesaul Hivin and staff captain Maximov with their Cossacks hurried to catch up with the Arykshoo's band, baron von Zass said with a smile, which was hiding his feelings:
   - I am serving in the Caucasus for a long time, but I do not recall a single case of officers rejecting a general's invitation to share bread and salt with him. Well, God forgive them! Festive dinner awaits us at the fortress. We will not abstain from that!
   Addressing his daughter and her friend, rather bewildered by all these events, he said in his most kind (or so he thought) tone:
   - I waited, oh, how I waited for this moment!
   The Cossack groom wanted to help Katherine and Dahawos to sit in the carpet -upholstered tarantass, but they declined his help and took their places in an instant.
   The groom was starting the vehicle, when Grigori Hristoforovich stopped him:
   - Do not hurry, Nazarka! I will enter the fortress with my daughter. - And he hobbled to the tarantass. Daha was looking at the approaching general unremittingly. Yes, he was hobbling. Long blond moustache descended to his breast. He was a man of a solid physique and rather fast.
   - But Shaitan is lame! - Daha could not restrain her emotion.
   Kathy looked at her reproachfully and answered:
   - He was wounded many times. That's the reason of his lameness.
   Grigori Hristoforovich came to the vehicle and Daha could see him clearly now.
   He had an expressive and energetic face, quick and acute stare.
   "There is something attractive in this man - thought Kathy's friend, but dismissed
   this thought at once. - He who burns the auls together with oldsters and children, can not be a good man."
   Nazarka helped his master to climb into the tarantass, and then sat at the coachman's seat. The noisy caravan started to move to the fortress gates.
   - So, you are home now! - Zass addressed to his daughter. - Aren't you happy, aren't you glad?
   His daughter leaned forward and kissed the general's mustached face.
   Later Daha came to know that the general was famous for his hospitality. He did not like to be alone, and therefore all the travelers, officers of his fortress, civilian officials, Chercesogays, peaceful highlanders all were dining with the general and then stayed for a pleasant talk. It was Zass' way to know the people and their attitudes closely. After such an intercourse he had no doubt which of his officers was good for a combat duty, which one was a good scout, and which will do his best in a most desperate attack. Even during the expeditions the general liked to feed everybody who came close enough to his tent. That is why ten camels, loaded with food supplies were included into his rear supply depot. But Dahawos will know all that much later. Now, passing the fortress streets, she was astonished to see how clean and orderly they were. In Zass' spacious house the guests were expected. Numerous servants run out to meet Kathy. What a greeting! Tears, kind words, embraces... There was no end to them, but the general stopped the tumult with his stentorian voice:
   - That's enough! You will kiss your fill later! We are ravenously hungry! Call the guests to the table!
   Kathy was seated beside her father. The general's daughter placed Daha at her side. The girl was turning her head in all directions as a wild creature, caught by a man. She was blinking her eyes, scared by unfamiliar faces and furniture. First of all she planned the way of possible retreat: this door - another door - the opened window. She painfully tried to remember where they put Bzu and Bzhe. Kathy noticed her friend's tension.
   - Why are you alarmed?
   - Do you know where they put our horses? - Dahawos asked Kathy in Kabardin.
   Kathy laughed.
   - But of course I know. They are at the stables. The grooms will water and forage them. The horses are tired.
   - What are you discussing there, you two magpies? - Zass boomed.
   - Daha dear is worried about the horses.
   - She is right to. But tell her, that the Cossacks like the horses not less, than the Circassians do. They will care about your two white swans.
   Katherine wanted to remind her father, that her friend has a perfect command of Russian, but the general was already instructing the servants on the wines, fruit liqueurs, and, of course, vodka, which was produced in the Strong Trench Fort by the Bulgarian migrants according to ancient Russian recipes. The food was ample, but without any delicacies. It was simple and nourishing.
   - That Snow of yours - Grigori Hristoforovich decided to call Dahawos so - is a clever but, seemingly, an illiterate girl.
   Kathy reacted sternly:
   - Not Snow, but Snowflake, daddy. Only for very close friends, mind you.
   - For you, for instance?
   - Yes, for me certainly. What about her supposed illiteracy, I cannot agree with you, since it does not correspond reality. Having a natural gift of intelligence, she read so many books in these two years, leaving many metropolitan and Moscow maidens far behind. I do not mention the provincial ladies at all.
   - You mean to say, that you have taught her? How could you do that - you have not mastered much knowledge yourself?
   - No, - Kathy blushed, offended. - Far from that. Her teachers were Voltaire, Diderot, Margaret of Navarre, Petrarka, Roman and Greek orators and thinkers, Russian geniuses, who are not so few as it seems.
   - Oh, come off! Diderot, Voltaire and some Navarre! A savage is a savage, and you cannot sew a new head to her!
   "You are the authority on heads, daddy dear" - his daughter was ready to answer, but contained herself.
   - Her head serves her perfectly, - she said.
   - So let her take care of it, - said the general with significance.
   Daha restrained herself with the great effort. What she could do? To rise hell? To demand immediate departure?
   Kathy was looking at her with deep gratitude.
   - We must behave so, that the opposite side will gain no advantages from abusing us - whispered Kathy to Daha. - Yes, papa has strange sides to his character. But he is not evil. Do me a favor, exercise your tolerance. Everything will come to normal. You will see.
   Zass, busy with the drinks and food, was mostly conversing with his officers, leaving his daughter's girlfriend alone.
   Tasting stewed meat, prepared with lots of pepper, general had a fit of sneezing. Both girls immediately stood up.
   - What? What has happened? - general inquired, drying the tears from his eyes and cheeks with a handkerchief.
   "Women stand up when the old man sneezes" - that is a Kabardin tradition - Kathy replied.
   - Why, I like this tradition, - general said. - We also must implement it in our everyday life.
   - We, the Terek Cossacks have a similar custom - yesaul Gannochka, sitting opposite the general, boasted.
   - Do you? Then why don't you observe it?
   - We do...
   - Like hell you do! I have been to many of your Cossack villages and houses, but no one of your Cossack women got her ass from the chair when I sneezed. You better chew and keep silent!
   That was the first acquaintance of Dahawos - Snowflake with baron von Zass. After that the life went on - sometimes tranquil, sometimes tempestuous, as the waters of Kuban. Everybody was astonished by the businesslike manner of the general's daughter. She demanded teachers of music, English, French and Russian, ordered lots of books, ordered to invite a tailor from the metropolis or Tiflis. General fulfilled all her desires.
   First Grigori Hristoforovich barely managed to conceal his dislike for the Circassian girl. But with the time passing, her open face, her habits, her modesty, the inquisitive mind of his daughter's girlfriend, and her blue eyes (the last, but not the least!) were gaining his disposition. He even caught himself looking out for Snowflake, when she was not beside Kathy. He never called her Snow now, but either Daha, or Daha dear. All his subordinates noticed this change. Now, trying to gain general's and Kathy's good favors, they all were ready to do anything for their guest girl.
   Once Zass visited their study.
   - How your lessons are progressing?
   The teacher of French, who was with the girls at that hour, praised the girls:
   - They are diligent and inquisitive. Good memory. And the pronunciation is marvelous! Especially the Snowflake's!
  -- Can't be other way, - Grigori Hristoforovich consented. - They are young. And
   clever. They must not just mark the time!
   Then the first conversation between Kabardin princes and the baron happened.
   -...You are never united. - Grigori Hristoforovich was saying. -That is why we always beat you. If all the auls managed to unite, that would be, most probably, our defeat. But you will never be able to achieve that, because every prince of the highlanders, Adyghes especially, considers himself omnipotent. In any war such behavior is ruinous. Yes, in your mountains every tree may shoot, every stone may make a salvo. The wars for power are endless. They may die out for a time, but will flare up sometime. I am a pawn on the chessboard of the battles. And general Yermolov was a pawn. As many others were.
   - Then who decides our destinies? The sovereign ruler only?
   - No. He also is not almighty. Every war has its capital figures. They will become known afterwards. If ever. In victory or defeat.
   - Never? - Daha was bewildered.
   - May be never.
   - But who are they? And what are they striving for?
   - Those, who construct fortresses. Those, who steal money earmarked for that construction. Those who make cannons and sells them to the army. Those who produce weaponry, deliver grain and broadcloth, horses and soldiers' shirts. Oh, they are aplenty, profiteering on war and bloodshed.
   - What about you?
   - We are the cannon fodder. - Zass' smile was bitter. - I was promoted to the rank of general, received many awards and seven wounds - shrapnel, bullet or saber. They praise me, because they need me. The warrior, the Herod, the murderer. Such people are always in demand. And will be needed. Even after a hundred years.
   - You are not as silly as they depict you, Shaitan - Daha sighed. Then, remembering herself, she flinched, blushed and instinctively brought her hand to her lips.
   Grigori Hristoforovich noticed that.
   - Don't worry, Daha. You said what you said. Do you think that I enjoy the war?
   No! My officers like it neither. And the soldiers. Nobody likes this war. No one wants to die. But we can't manage without this war now. Because we are nothing without this war. With the war I am a general, commandant of the Kuban Line, I am the person to be feared and respected. And you call me Shaitan, because you fear me.
   Dahawos stood up.
   - I will go, Grigori Hristoforovich. Kathy is waiting for me long ago.
   -Yes, yes, sure! - Zass agreed quickly.
   She turned back in the doorframe:
   - Concerning that fear...
   - Oh, I know, - general waved his hand, - you will tell me now, that you fear nobody. It is impossible. Every human being fears something. Do you think that I am not afraid of Circassians? But I am! How it is possible not to fear them? I am not a fool! But I do everything not to show my fear. That is why I have a reputation of a daredevil.
   Now Dahawos looked at this big and strong man, hated by her compatriots, from a different point of view: " May be he is not as guilty as all that. May be he is made to behave so? - And objected mentally - But who? Who can make him do what he doesn't want to do? - And answered herself: - Circumstances".
   Her teacher of music, Armenian Siranush Georgiyevna, said about Daha:
   - Plenty of talent and indefatigability. These qualities cannot be bought for money. It is a God's gift.
   And she, Daha, wanted to know everything: music, philosophy, and languages... Daha liked reading so that she was distressed, when she had to go to a party, to communicate with people and dance, dance, dance... "They divert me from my books!"
   "Snowflake, but this is not less important, than the lessons of English and Voltaire!" - Kathy persuaded her.
   Dahawos obeyed. She had a light and nonchalant way of dancing and could dance without intervals. She laughed serenely, and talked incessantly. Unrecognizable Daha! "A great joker" - was the nickname the servants called her.
   The girls were accommodated in a big two -story house close to the general's. Their bedrooms were situated on the first floor, while their teachers and servants, kitchen, dining rooms and classrooms occupied the ground floor. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners were served in the house of Grigori Hristoforovich.
   The blue tranquil sky splashed over the fortress walls, over the house, where the girls lived, over the streets and forts of the citadel, over soldiers in their caps and Chercesogays in the neighboring Armavir aul. There, beyond the horizon, the eye distinguished the outlines of the mountains with their amazing life, full of anxiety.
   Kathy's preoccupation with the life of her friend diverted her from the thoughts about Dabech. But when she was alone, she could not feel quiet, she was suffering of her doubts and sorrows.
   " I did not suppose, that the fate may be so cruel to me" - thought Katherine.
  -- We are so weak to face our fate, - said she to her girlfriend.
  -- It is a shame to be so dejected - Daha tried to convince her - mobilize your
   potential!
   Kathy wanted to avoid suffering, but all in vain.
   " My heart is like a light -house, - thought Kathy - it is sending its light through the darkness of the night. Someone will be saved, coming across the reef bar, but not me".
   Her lighthouse was sending away the signals, beating, and she heard the heartbeats. "Will Dabech hear them, too?"
   In the nights she was staring at a dark blue sky, nearly black, studded with stars.
   " One more day is over, - Kathy thought sadly - It has passed without him, but with my love for him".
   Daha approached quietly:
   - Do you distinguish all the voices of the night?
   Kathy flinched, surprised, though she knew, that her friend is somewhere close:
   - What? What did you say?
   - There are so many sounds in the air!
   - Oh, yes! Right you are.
   The wind subsided. Probably, it went to sleep. Kuban was rolling its waters slowly. Grumbling somewhere, singing a song of the plain's river somewhere.
   - What a wonderful evening this is - Daha repeated, delighted. Kathy nodded, though her friend could not see that nod in the darkness. They came to the porch.
   The Cossack sentries were shouting their parole words in the night. There was no wind, but now the leaves of the birch trees rustled, and then the breeze brought some coolness from the river. A lone horseman rode past, and the cart wheezed in the night.
   "The life goes on, - thought Kathy - everything is converging. Only I am far from Bech"
   And she felt the chill creep on her skin.
   In the morning she was sitting at the window, resting her chin on her warm palms. The Kuban winds were driving the clouds across the sky, and they disappeared somewhere. Some returned, the others went farther - to the mountains.
   "I wish I could fly with them! - thought Kathy. To my aul, to my lovely Malichipkh and Pago, Arykshoo. - And here she reprimanded herself: "What is the use of deceiving myself? It is Dabech I want to meet. Dabech only! Riding to him on the cloud. How astonished he would be to see me coming down from the white cloud in Amysh aul! What a pity, that I am not a bird! The wings would take me home. Home? - Kathy laughed. - But I am home now, am I not? Wow, some strange thoughts come into my head! Who knows..."
   The wind knew. It touched lovingly her face, ruffled her hair, flew shamelessly under her skirt. It tickled, it spoke, it whispered in her ear: "You may be delighted by the mountain eternal snow, by the shining of the gold or the beauty of the precious stones, you may love your parents, but do not forget to hear the voice of your own heart".
   Several bird hutches were brought to the girls' house from the general with his special request to look after the birds. In Zass' house these hutches with the canaries were hanging at every window. Every morning began with their noisy warble. The general was fond of birds and attended to them personally: he changed the water in tiny basins, put grains in the feeding troughs.
   "How a man so fond of birds may be so cruel to highlanders?" - Dahawos thought.
   Nobody doubted general's authority among the people, surrounding him. The soldiers called him "the father" in their good mood, and the "lame devil", when they were angry. He was an industrious and orderly man. As a majority of despotic persons, he was a good family man. Kathy was his especial preference. After her return from captivity he doted on her and fulfilled her every whim. Nobody doubted his valor. Those, who were in the combat with him knew, that general Zass never bowed to the bullets, rushed where the fight was the bitterest. The Cossacks of his escort and his adjutants were always ready to defend the general with their own bodies. But he never pretended to be a noble knight. He was a cunning and insidious enemy, ready to any dirty trick to gain victory. Prior to the captivity of his daughter the highlanders knew him a ferocious predator. After her return he changed his tactics: now he tried to do everything covertly: sending Cossacks to fight to the rebellious aul at the same time with his soldiers' expedition to the peaceful one. Exercising all his viciousness there, he would send a lying dispatch to the metropolis about his skilful counteractions against mutinous population. With resulting orders, medals, titles and honors. But he could not stop the flow of complaints, and the sovereign was forced to call him to order. Kathy was influencing her father positively. If she somehow came to know about the future expedition, she was sure to talk him out of it. Zass raged, got purple in the face, bellowed, that it is not a lady's business - to interfere into martial affairs, but Kathy was firm:
   - The highlanders are my brothers and sisters. How possible to fight them?
   The Circassians respected Grigori Hristoforovich for his boldness. And for his good humor. When his koonaks visited him in the Strong Trench Fort, he demonstrated to them different bizarre devices: juke boxes, distorting mirrors, electric machine...
   Once Kathy and Daha witnessed baron's evil joke. Some highlanders from the mutinous auls came to see the general. He accepted them with his usual hospitality. According to the tradition, the guests left their shashkas and pistols in the anteroom. The rifles they have left with their adjutants. They took with them their daggers. Zass ordered to his young officers to extract the bullets from the pistols and to hand the pistols to him in the strict order of precedence. During the ample dinner Grigori Hristoforovich began conversation about the horsemanship and marksmanship. Addressing his guests, the general inquired:
   - Why do you carry your pistols tucked under your belts all the time? As far as I know, you cannot shoot properly...
   The guests objected noisily, feeling offended. They insisted, that they are sharp shooters and that they were trained for that from their young years.
   - All right, all right, - Zass squinted his eyes cunningly - can you shoot a target from the distance of ten steps?
   Circassians laughed: ten steps - a distance for shooting? What a nuisance!
   - All right, then! - Zass commanded - Ali, take your pistol!
   Ali, suspecting nothing, took his pistol and looked at the general with a smile.
   - Shoot me! - general said.
   - No! I am in your house and you are my koonak. How can I shoot you?
   - Don't mind it! Shoot!
   Ali declined again.
   - All right, then. This is my hat. Put it at a distance of ten steps and shoot.
   The hat is in position. Ali, a daring horsemen and sharp shooter, easily hits a hen's egg at a full tilt. He fires. To his shame, the hat is standing, intact. Zass, unobserved, drops a bullet at the wall of the room. The bullet is found and inspected. The owner of the pistol is completely at a loss. It is his bullet, no doubt.
   - Now you, Ahmed!
   Same confusion, same embarrassment. The third, the forth highlander shoot and miss. There is a panic, which transforms into superstitious awe. Zass is telling them about some supernatural powers he has, about his charms and wizardry.
   - Shaitan! Shaitan! - highlanders collect their belongings and depart hastily.
   Grigori Hristoforovich laughs heartily.
   - Papa, what you have done now is no good, - Kathy says.
   - But why, my soul? I did not abuse them, did I? It was a joke. Just a joke.
   Daha goes out of the room, biting her lip.
   - See, she just pities her compatriots. - The general shrugs his shoulders. - I have not done anything bad.
   The other time the girls observed Momtali, an undercover scout, being ridiculed by Zass. Wishing to remunerate him for a rather important service, general put twenty golden coins into a packet, divided into two parts. The upper part of the packet remained empty.
   The scout entered.
   - Momtali - Grigori Hristoforovich began his play. - I decided to award you with golden money, but now I have no gold. But I will use my witchcraft and the magician, who serves me, will transform the gunpowder from your cartridge into the golden coins. Come, take out the bullet from the cartridge and pour the powder into this envelope.
   The scout obeyed. When the gunpowder was in the envelope, general closed it meticulously and asked Momtali to blow on it twelve times.
   - Good. That will do. - Zass said and put the packet on the table. Walking around the table thrice, he was mumbling and showing the whites of his eyes. Then he opened the envelope and there were twelve shining golden coins on the table. The scout was so frightened, that he did not want to accept the money first. But then the greed overcame his fears, and he began to try them, making notches with his dagger, biting the coins and striking them against the nail of his big finger. At last, Momtali took the money and departed. Daha was not angry with Grigori Hristoforovich for that practical joke, since he deceived the undercover agent, highlanders' enemy. "None of my business", she thought.
   General came to Dahawos and said:
   - To win a victory over strong and clever enemy one must have valor. But to defeat gold... - he fell silent, as if lost in thought, and then concluded: - I am not sure, that it is possible. But the intrigue is just beginning. Let us see, what will be the result.
   His words proved to be prophetic. The news about his experiments, turning gunpowder into gold spread, and convinced naive highlanders, that it is possible. And though the experienced oldsters waved hands, denying such a miracle, there were plenty of those, who were ready to commit anything to get the secret of that transformation. The Temirgoy prince Sheretluko called Momtali and demanded to show him the golden coins. Momtali obeyed.
   Since the gold was shining with the authentic golden halo and was sparkling and ringing, the prince went to baron von Zass and implored to teach him that magic.
   - Divulge that secret to me. Take all my wealth, but do not decline my request, in the name of Allah!
   The general foresaw such a situation and was duly prepared. He assured prince Sheretluko that the transformation of the gunpowder into gold is possible at a certain time of a year, because it demands a certain location of the planets in the sky.
   - The time is over now, Sheretluko, - general repeated. - The planets moved away. Now we have to wait for a year.
   The girls laughed heartily together with Grigori Hristoforovich. No wonder.
   Dahawos gradually got used to the life in the fortress. Kind hearted and talented, she was a common pet. There was a constant struggle going on in her soul. Inside her body, in her consciousness. She got used to hear the things, said by the Fort dwellers about the highlanders: "The Circassian will deceive even a cock" , "They grow up not being sown, and they perish, not being reaped". That was also about her compatriots. Once she answered to Zass on some rude notion of his: "I pray to God, general, that you will not ask for a counsel, when you will not know what to do!" - that is a Kabardin curse.
   General loved that proverb.
   - Why, you are a clever girl, aren't you?
   The nights, when the sleep did not come, she inquired:
   " Where are those mountains, close to which I grew up? No mountains here"
   Once the commandant presented her with a book on Egyptian mameluks:
   - This is the book about your compatriots, depicting the heights Circassians reached in the Egypt land.
   Then and there they discussed one subject, which disturbed Dahawos.
   - The deserted auls are not inhabited anew, - the girl said. - The houses stand with the dead eyelets of the windows. The stones of the houses die, if they are not warmed by the hearth fire and by human soul.
   - What do you know about it? - general responded.
   - I saw, how the gardens grow wild, their fruit becoming small and bitter. And the time levels the tombs of ancestors with the surrounding ground. Feather grass and wormwood grow in the streets, in the gardens and cemeteries, loosing the count of days, months and years.
   General felt embarrassed by the words of this girl with the clever blue eyes. He has seen many deserted villages, but never thought about their fate. Dead houses and trees? Ain't his business! But Daha talked about wounded stones so simply and comprehensibly.
   He put his heavy palm on her head:
   - Everything will pass, everything will be right. New gardens will grow and new auls will appear. But it takes time.
   Kathy by that time was preoccupied by the thoughts about the Amysh aul and Dabech.
   "Love has a bitter taste - she thought. And dreamt of honey. May be wild and bitter, but the honey of their meeting. She was ready to pay any price for that meeting, to give what she had and what she will possibly have in the future. Once she was sitting on her veranda unthinking, - a rare occasion. She just sat there and enjoyed the soft and pleasant Kuban breeze.
   - Why are you sad so often, daughter dear, - said the general, approaching noiselessly.
   - Ah, papa! You frightened me.
   - I beg your pardon, if I did. I went out on a reconnaissance mission and found you.
   - You are a good scout, papa!
   Zass stood for some time near his daughter, silent. Then he said:
   - Respect must be rendered to your father. - And he turned to go.
   - But I do respect you, Your Excellency! - the happy laughter of his daughter took a burden from the heart of the general, and he departed, comforted.
   In the evenings, at the dinner the ladies were served doppelkummel. Daha rejected the sweet German vodka once and for all, but other ladies sipped their doppelkummels with greatest pleasure. The feminine society in the fort was not likely to please a connoisseur. The ladies played a bad game of cards, dressed with pretence to be exquisite. But that pretence was enough to demonstrate their poor taste. Their French was not bad - it was horrible. Only Kathy and Daha were shining among them with a natural beauty, winning the hearts of the Fort officers and travelling gentlemen. When they passed, they left behind a thin trail of fragrance - sweet mixture of youth and unobtrusive French perfume.
   Suitors were very few in the Strong Trench Fort. Those who displayed numbered buttons, epaulettes and white service caps were out. How could they be matched to Kathy? They are not right for the aristocratic metropolitan parlors. Even if their breasts were covered by awards. Here, in the fortress, they were heroes. They narrated about their expeditions and battles, cured their wounds, prepared for new raids...
   Some of them came to Caucasus seeking romantic adventures. They were few. Majority consists of the exiles, demoted officers, or of those who came for awards, good pension or just for money. Some officers were quite clever and well read. They were the minority. Everyone who was not drinking heavily, playing cards and volunteering to the next expedition for Circassian heads was considered an alien. That was the reason why baron von Krueger, a son of a Berlin banker, an old friend of Grigori Hristoforovich, was accepted in the fortress cordially. Krueger junior was travelling, hunting, oil painting, writing notes on Caucasus, which he planned to publish on his return home. His gig was followed by three carts, loaded with innumerable and unthinkable things, most of which will be never of any use in his journey. General invited Krueger Jr. to lodge in his house. There he met general's daughter every day. The banker's son was so engrossed, that he couldn't take his eyes off Kathy. But she immediately ordained:
   - Do not fall in love with me. It is impossible. I forbid you!
   But such things cannot be ordained. Krueger followed the girls. He brought them presents, ransacking his carts for that purpose. But the general's daughter was invincible. She did not reject presents, though. More than that - she inquired:
   - What you are going to present to Snowflake to day?
   - Oh, yes, of course! - and embarrassed Krueger sent his valet for another gift.
   Once, when they were alone, Kathy said:
   - What attracted you so much in me? I am not pretty. I have a bad temper. you are fond of peace and quiet, while I am spoilt by the Circassian love of action. I am riding rakish horses, shoot any targets. When you will intend to kiss me I may have a whim to tickle you. What will come out of it? A great joke!
   Abashed suitor sweated, got red in the face, and dried his face and neck with a snow -white handkerchief. The girl kissed him on the brow. It was a kiss of sympathy. Poor Krueger nearly fainted and turned purple. That made Kathy laugh, and brought new sufferings to an embarrassed gentleman.
   Sometimes, leaving their lessons, books and musical exercises, the girls engaged in mischief. Either they appeared at the officers' firing range, winning shooting competitions with the best of the experienced Caucasians; organized races which they inevitably won, though the officers pretended that they willingly yielded to the girls; cut the twigs with their shashkas galloping. Here they were equals with the Cossacks. Yesaul Nesterenko once praised the girls:
   - You are quite good at this! It is a complex skill to master.
   Once Kathy and Daha arranged a horsemanship acrobatics show for the whole garrison of the fortress. Zass, who was present among the invited guests, was so frightened, that he closed his eyes not to see their frantic evolutions. But when he opened them, he saw even more daring tricks: the girls under the horses' bellies, the girls standing on their saddles upright at a full tilt, changing horses with a jump. Daha pretended to be wounded, leaning back from the saddle on her Bzhe's croup, her arms and head flailing fit to fall off... And suddenly, springing, the girl was in her saddle, slim and tight, as a bowstring.
   - What a girlie! - the Cossacks murmured.
   And now Kathy was racing her white mare, jumping on the ground left and right off the horse and getting right in the saddle after each jump. Shouts of approval again. After that show general Zass told to the girls sternly:
   - You must quiet down. Anything may happen. Just a ditch or a pothole... No amount of skill will help then... Stop those naughty tricks.
   After that the girls were walking along the fortress roads and around the fortress with their Bzu and Bzhe following them. The horses walked, nodding their clever heads. When they were far from the observant eyes, the girls mounted their mares and had it their way!
  
   In the N fortress captain Maximov having reported the results of the expedition to the commandant without unnecessary detail, but with all the frankness he considered possible, returned to his service - routine, and therefore difficult. He could not imagine his life without that service, anyway. But with the time passing, the faint rumors, gaining credibility with the added facts, mostly fantastic, were told about the events in the Strong Trench Fort. Either Hivin's Cossacks were too talkative, or the garrison scouts brought in some gossip. These rumors were further instigated by Pago's gift of two thoroughbreds for the officers in that expedition to Zass quarters and ten Kabardin horses for the ten Cossacks of the convoy.
   Nazarov heard this talk and inquired Maximov:
   - I think that you kept some of the details from me! Sure you did!
   Maximov pretended to be offended, assured the colonel in his utmost frankness and scolded in his mind those who talked.
   "Though we all know, that the secret, known to two people, is known to the whole world" - Andrey Andreyevich thought.
   He got very close with yesaul Hivin after that expedition. They were drinking endless teas, sometimes changing to more substantial drinks. Chihir was aplenty. And chihir from the native village of Hivin, Yekaterinogradskaya, was especially potent this year. The story of the expedition to the Strong Trench Fort was being forgotten little by little, to the utmost pleasure of Nazarov. " Better that way!" he thought, though sometimes he scolded Maximov in his mind for depriving him of the award, promised by Zass. But he was mistaken in this respect. An urgent message arrived from Kislovodsk, where the Line Headquarters were positioned. That message informed, that staff captain Maximov and yesaul Hivin are awarded with the Orders of Saint Vladimir, colonel Nazarov got the Order of Saint Ann with swords and the ten Hivin's Cossacks got medals. Dabech was not forgotten, either. He was promoted to the officer's rank with all the privileges, if the young prince will accept that commission. If he will decline that honor, he was to be issued twenty -five golden ten ruble coins. Same message also informed, that colonel Oblensky is awarded with the Order of Saint Vladimir for his Chechen expeditions. The description of their feats in the official editing had nothing in common with the real story. It said, that they attacked the mutinous aul, liberated the kidnapped girl and returned her to her father. Every one of them was a hero. Twelve people mentioned in dispatch prevailed over several hundreds of Circassians.
   - It is a real delirium! - Andrey Andreyevich was resented. - I dare not accept this award!
   Nazarov, usually so reserved and patient with the staff captain, this time was outraged and talked to him sternly. He concluded his speech with the words:
   - No one will be able to spoil my triumph!
   But on the next day, meeting Maximov, Yefim Yevdokimovich said:
   - I have a personal request to you.
   Captain demonstrated to the commandant his utmost attention.
   - But first I must ask you a question!
   - What question? Will I be able to answer it?
   - Listen to me! Is it worth -wile to see only the black side of anything?
   - Certainly not! I am far from such a tendency.
   - If so, hear my request. Here it is: Do not irritate the high command. Accept this award. The Cossacks will be grateful, Hivin will be glad, and me, too... I will not conceal it.
   Maximov sighed:
   - Be it your way, Yefim Yevdokimovich.
   And with this they changed the topic of their conversation.
   Andrey Andreyevich complained to Hivin, sipping chihir:
   - It is possible to become a murderer without as much as cutting anybody's finger; to become a thief without stealing anything at all; and it is possible to lie all your life, talking evident truth.
   Hivin tried to comfort his friend as h could. Maximov took out a Kabardin pipe, filled it with English tobacco, presented to him by colonel Oblensky, lit it and continued:
   - Today I surrendered my fortress, when I promised Nazarov to accept the undeserved award.
   - Why do you call it "undeserved"? - Hivin objected. Did not you take a risk? Did not you expose yourself to the enemy bullets and the general's anger? No, Andrey Andreyevich, I will not consent with you this time! I simply cannot, and that is that.
   -All right, smirked the old soldier, - but remember, that achievement of peace depends on the impregnability of the fortress you defend. Surrender is out of question.
   Hivin nodded silently.
   -And one more thing to remember, - captain continued - desire has greedy eyes.
   And to overcome your desires is more difficult, than to assault a city.
   Anastasia Pavlovna decided to invite all the officers, free from duty to her famous cabbage pie, without waiting for the awards to be delivered. Of course, the pie was just a cause for a grandiose party. The cooks and the garrison first lady did their best. The lunch, which gradually transgressed into dinner, then to the late supper, was gorgeous. The imported wines were acquired in the Tat's shops, together with the best vodkas and a special big bottle of Scotch whiskey for Oblensky.
   As usual, the officers sat to a game of cards. Maximov, Hivin and Oblensky were asked numerous questions about their expeditions. But the most pleasant surprise of the party was the songs Anastasia Pavlovna sung. Colonel Oblensky accompanied her with a seven -string guitar. In one of the Russian romantic songs he even sang along with her, and that had a tremendous success.
   Several days passed in a routine garrison life and suddenly a lieutenant from a
   Strong Trench Fort knocked on the citadel gates. He reported to the officer on duty, that he has an urgent message to colonel Nazarov from lieutenant general Zass. It was too early in the morning to wake up the commandant, and the officer on duty proposed a cup of tea to the courier. The samovar was ready, steaming on
   the table, and officers sat to an unhurried tea. The garrison officer tried to clear some of the questions:
   - But how our men handed the general's daughter over to her father? They say, that there was a great horsemanship show, and that our captain Maximov brought a Kabardin princes as an amanat* to general Zass?
   The questions were aplenty. But the Cossack officer, mumbled something incoherent, shook his head, pretending to be burnt by the hot tea, and sipped the strong and aromatic tea from a great mug. When the time was right they went to the commandant's house. Yefim Yevdokimovich was glad to receive the messenger and Anastasia Pavlovna ordered to serve the breakfast. He opened the packet, which contained a letter from general Zass. Grigori Hristoforovich in his letter again thanked the colonel and his officers and men for the happy return of his daughter. In the same letter he notified the colonel, that one hundred golden ten -ruble coins are waiting for captain Maximov in Kislovodsk, in the Kuban Line Headquarters. To deliver such a great sum to N fortress would require a special convoy. "Let the captain decide, what he is going to do with that sum" - Zass wrote.
   Andrey Andreyevich was at that time in one of the Kabardin auls, trying to sort out some urgent matter - a koop of Kabardins from that aul raided the Soldatskaya Cossack village, stole a whole herd of horses, kidnapped a Cossack woman with her small son and wounded two sentries. The Kabardins, as was usual, denied their participation in it, bluffed, were swearing easily on the Bible - they were Moslems - that they were innocent, and the Cossacks were slandering them.
   -Well, - Maximov agreed, I believe you. All this is a slander. You are not guilty. But you know, who has committed the crime. Let them return the Cossack woman and the boy, and horses - all of them, to the very last. Then we will consider this affair closed.
  
   ___________________
   * amanat - a hostage, voluntary grunted by one side to the other until some terms of an Agreement are not fulfilled.
   He was sure of his tactics, because prior to his talks he ordered one company of Army rangers and two hundreds of Cossacks to encircle the aul. No one would escape from the aul until Maximov will be satisfied.
   The aul elders went out to council. They were absent for so long a time that Maximov got suspicious. He sent a soldier to the Cossacks and the rangers of the encirclement, reminding them to be vigilant.
   - I don't like it - Andrey Andreyevich said to Hivin - Are they preparing some dirty trick? I don't want the lariat be tightened around my neck!
   - They will not do that to their koonak Maxim. - Yesaul was positive. - They know your prestige among the Kabardins.
   At last the elders appeared.
  -- We respect you - addressed they to the Russian officer. - Abreks will fulfill our request and will return the people and the herd.
  -- All horses? - Maximov asked.
  -- Two young stallions short. They are already sold.
  -- Replace them by your own horses.
   The elders exchanged some words, whispering.
  -- No. But we will give two unbroken young foals in their stead.
  -- All right. That is settled, then - said the captain.
  -- But we also have a request to you, - the oldest one spoke.
  -- I listen and will be glad to do you a favor, if it will be in my power.
  -- The son of our uzden, Jankhot, is kept in the fortress prison.
  -- I know Jankhot. He is a criminal.
  -- Who is an angel now?
  -- Are you asking to release him?
  -- Yes. Release him.
   Jankhot Tsrimov was caught, when he was stealing two horses from the cordon Cossacks. In the wartime this was not a serious felony.
   - As a token of my respect to your age, I will release the abrek.
   And that was the end of their talk. On their way back, the captain asked Hivin:
   - Tell me, my friend, what are you fighting for?
   - For the Czar and my Motherland.
   - You are a happy man, my friend. You know at least, what you are fighting for. I do not. I will be killed, probably, not knowing that.
   When they were riding through the fortress gates, captain was notified, that the commandant wants to see him immediately.
   "He is anxious to know the results of our talks" -Andrey Andreyevich thought.
   But he was pleasantly surprised to know the contents of the message, which came from the Strong Trench Fort. This time he did not reject the award. He thought it
   quite deserved.
   He observed shortly:
   - I will divide it in a fair way: thirty golden coins to Arykshoo, thirty - to Hivin and thirty to myself.
   - And the other ten left? - commandant inquired not out of greed, but to satisfy his curiosity.
   - I have to buy chihir to Cossacks - that is one. Some charity to the infirmary - two. A present to Anastasia Pavlovna from the Tat's shop at the forest walls - three... And so on. Small expenses. Money is like water. Come and go.
   - What for is the present to Anastasia Pavlovna?
   - For her goodhearted attitude to me, for her cabbage pies, for her patience to me, the old grumbler, for her teas we drunk together...
   By the evening the N fortress gates were opened once more - to let Jankhot go. Both the Russians and Kabardins could keep their word at those times.
  
   However hard Ustia tried to hold the time in her embrace, it was flying, changing bright light of the dawns to the tired red light of the dusks.
   There came the day, when Arykshoo told her:
   - My queen! Wazermes is going the day after.
   - Going already? What about me?
   - We will see him off.
   Every woman is able to display heroism in her love. Especially, if this is love for her child. After some time Ustia gathered all her strength and said to Wazermes's father:
   - Excuse me! I understand, and I am ready, and I am happy, because the future of my son may becomes so bright and happy.
   "The woman's intuition is stronger, than the man's confidence", - thought the prince.
   He put his palm on her head, as if trying to instill desire and withdrew the sorrow.
   - Malichipkh says, that I will not see him again, - he complained to his beloved.
   - But why? - She was surprised. - We are not sending him to a war.
   - I will be left there, where the war never ends.
   - No! -Ustia said. - Now, when you must become my husband, I will not surrender you neither to the saber, nor to the bullet.
   Arykshoo smiled:
   - You can't save the body, if the soul is not healed.
   - I will heal your soul. I told you - come to me, do not wait till I fade. You are not a makatan* to me, - you are the father of our son. I cannot covet you - I am a woman.
   Arykshoo laughed aloud - a habit he had thought forgotten long ago.
   - Oh, you flippant Cossack matrons! - Pressing Ustia to his breast, he kissed her with a long and tender kiss.
   "Again the land slides under my feet! - Arykshoo thought in panic. - I will make people laugh if I will faint, kissing her!'
   "I am flying somewhere, - thought Ustia. - Keep me tight, prince, do not let me go! Hold me!"
   At last he pushed her gently. No, not pushed, but separated her from himself.
   _______________
   * makatan - a lover (Cossack jargon).
   - As soon as we see Wazermes off, I will send to you my representatives to get engaged.
   - I told you to kidnap me. What for we need these formalities, matchmakers, engagement! Anyway, it is against your traditions. The prince cannot marry a Cossack commoner.
   She laughed again. The sun entered the saklia with this laugh. Splashing its golden rays around, it looked into any dark corner, illuminated softly Arykshoo and Ustia's faces.
   "How beautiful you are!" - thought the prince.
   "How handsome you are!" - thought Ustia.
   The line of carts, loaded with innumerable presents for general Otto and gifts to God knows whom, and all the necessary Wazermes's belongings (or so his relatives thought) started in the direction of N fortress. Arykshoo with Wazermes, Mr. Sisi and Pataraz, a youth from the clan of Aripshevs were to catch up with that caravan later. Arykshoo with a small convoy decided to see his son as far as Pyatigorsk. Pataraz was to go with Wazermes to Petersburg. He had to become a shadow of Wazermes, and that meant, that he was to become a close friend and a bodyguard of the young prince.
   Wazermes was standing in front of Pago.
   - I told you all I wanted to say on the eve. I have nothing to add to that, - old prince was saying.
   Then the head of the clan took out a family cross, strewn with diamonds and remembrances and gave it to his nephew to kiss.
   - Remember, that this crucifix is unique. And it belongs to the Amysh clan. Wherever you see it, remember, that it is the principal relic of your ancestors. This cross may be either with your brothers, or... - here Pago was silent for several instances, and then continued: - or, save us God, in possession of our enemies. In the first case - you will kiss the crucifix with the feeling of happy new encounter; in the other case - the aim of your life will be to return the crucifix to the family bosom.
   Wazermes wanted to swear that he would fulfill the will of the old prince, but felt, that it is not to be done. The old man and the young boy knew, that it would be done, that there is no any other way.
   The nephew embraced his uncle. A suppressed sob sounded, muffled by the uncle's shoulder.
   - Never show your tears neither to your friends, nor to your foes.
   Together with the aul boys Arykshoo's son walked the streets, entering the smithy and the mill. When he entered Malichipkh's room, she did not keep him long:
   - I will go on the cart to see you to the exit from our gorge - she said to her nephew. She knew Wazermes's fortune. It was as clear to her, as the lines of the Bible. She could see whole pages of his future. How did she do it? She was not aware. It was not The Book of Planets, which told her the future, but some Voice from above. Was it good or bad? She did not know herself. Sometimes she was afraid to close her eyes, fearing her visions. There were times, when she was waiting for them in vain. Sometimes she was afraid of them. It was hard to tell the people about her bad premonitions. And they seldom were good.
   People asked her:
   - Is it possible to change the prediction, if you knew about the coming misfortune?
   - I do not know.
   - Who knows if you do not?
   - He, - answered Malichipkh, meaning Tkha.
   She knew the language of the beasts and understood plants. She was aware, what the leaves are rustling about in the orchard. The spring tears of birch trees were telling her their story - happy and sad; she understood the chirping of swallows and thrushes, and cuckoo's cries were different to her.
   - Yes, I will see you off...
   And she went, sitting comfortably in the gig.
   There, in the big valley that was the exit from the gorge, prior to the races and horsemanship competitions, the youth organized dancing. They were dancing "Udzh". The dancers formed two concentric circles - one in the other. The musicians were sitting at the side of the valley. The live circles began to move in two opposite directions. This continued for some time, then the circles were broken, and the dancers, forming pairs, made a long line, that took nearly all the valley.
   - My, aren't they dancing wonderfully! - Malichipkh exclaimed, though it was difficult to surprise her with good dancing.
   Wazermes ran up to her.
   - Nana! I ask you!
   - What? Are you inviting me to dance? - Pago's wife was genuinely and pleasantly surprised. - Well, I never thought, that I would dance an "Udzh" in this life again.
   They were among the dancers. All the pairs were circling around them, keeping to the common pattern, respecting their every movement. There is no more pleasure in this world, than the conversation in the language of a good dance. "Udzh" is not simply good for this. It is incomparable and beautiful. Malichipkh, looking youthful and happy, did not yield to the young Kabardin girls. Light as a feather and flexible, she was leading Wazermeska in this dance. And the boy was living in that dance - he floated over the valley, the mountains, the gorge.
   In the races, which took place after "Udzh" dancing, the youths from the neighboring village also participated. Wonderful raven black stallion from the Arykshoo's herd was earmarked as a prize to the victor. He deserved to be fought for. And the riders spared neither their skill nor strength. When the prize was won by the djigit from the neighboring aul, Arykshoo said:
   - They need good horses, too.
   The youngsters were ready to compete and to dance endlessly. But Pago's brother sounded the voice of reason:
   - The road ahead is a long road. It will take time to cover it. Time to go.
   Wazermes came to Malichipkh:
   - Bless me, Nana!
   - I am not a priest, my boy. But remember my words: love your loved ones, fight your enemies, strive for good, tolerate evil. And more: do not unsheathe your sword before the battle begins; try to indulge your enemy with gifts.
   The boy was turning to mount his horse, when Malichipkh added:
   - Never kid with flame and water, with people too close and with foes, remember about loyalty and duty.
   Ustia with her relatives accompanied her son to the N fortress. She wanted to prolong their journey to Pyatigorsk, but Arykshoo objected:
   - No! Do not inflict new wounds on your hearts -yours and son's.
   The Cossack matron agreed:
   - As you say, prince.
   She was already preparing to the role of Kabardin noble's wife, where the word of the master is a law. At least, that was the deep conviction of every Kabardin prince. Malichipkh asked the aul dwellers to stay with her until the Arykshoo's cavalcade was lost behind the road turn.
   - Well, that's all. - Pago's wife said. - A new life began for Wazermes.
   But even she, the clairvoyant, could not know, that the boy, which turned behind the road curve just now, will receive the best domestic training, perfect it in the Moscow College of professor Pavlov, graduate the Moscow University with honors, and return to Kabarda to become a statesman. The Russian Emperor and his Caucasian Governor-general will be aware of his glorious exploits. The Kabardin nation will perceive his erudition, culling from the clear source of his knowledge.
   When they neared the N fortress, the Cossack - messenger of colonel Nazarov, met them.
   - This is a paper to you from the commandant - he said, handing an envelope to Arykshoo, whom he immediately recognized as a senior of the group.
   - Paper, or no paper, - said the prince - what it says?
   The letter informed, that one hundred Cossacks under the command of yesaul Hivin are appointed to escort Mr. Sisi to Pyatigorsk. Another hundred of the Line Cossacks will accompany Ustia with her mother and uncles to Yekaterinogradskaya village. "The Lord guards the guarded ones" - wrote Nazarov in the last line of the paper.
   - Where we are supposed to pass the night? Emmanuel-Josef asked the Cossack.
   - But of course in the N fortress! The aroma of the pies rises to heavens! - was the messenger's reply.
   On the next morning after the pleasant evening, embellished by the warm hospitality of Anastasia Pavlovna, nobody wanted to get up. But Arykshoo insisted:
   - Go, when you must go.
   Everybody began to get ready. This time the prince did not decline the proposal of an escort. The main cargo of this caravan - his own son - was too dear to him. Before mounting the horses, father and son approached Ustia.
   - Bid farewell to each other - Arykshoo ordered.
   Ustia pressed her son's head to her bosom, kissed his eyes, cheeks, forehead.
   - My dear czarina, - the prince could not bear the scene - you are not sending him on the raid. He is going to learn, to acquire knowledge that will make him free and great. He will be able to do plenty of things. That will differ him from his father and grandfather.
   In spite of the sorrow of parting, Ustia did not leave these words unanswered:
   - Everybody knows his father and his grandfather - strong people, gallant warriors. Do not speak badly about them.
   Arykshoo laughed:
   - All right! I will not insult them. But you will agree, that knowledge is the best mail shirt.
   - But the shashka, the pistol and the rifle...
   - Sage person does not need them.
   - Do you think that our son will become a sage?
   - My father, Amysh, taught me, that with the time passing, there would be more and more clever people. Educated people. And that will be the reason for our life to improve.
   - Will the time come when the majority of people will be educated?
   - Yes.
   - And the people will stop killing each other?
   - How would they kill, if their wisdom will not permit them to unsheathe the sword or to fire a rifle? Well, - said he to his son - go to the horses! I will catch up.
   They were alone, like Adam and Eve in the paradise. Everything vanished - the fortress, the soldiers, the cannons, with their muzzles aiming at all the four sides of
   Great Kabarda and Kabarda Minor. For him she was the only one. For her he was the same.
   "It is difficult to cure love from the first sight" - he thought.
   "Nothing is more beautiful in the whole world than the face of the beloved" - thought she.
   "The most tender melody, born by the human and the sky is the voice of the beloved woman" - he thought.
   And she thought about his eyes, hands, lips, so voluptuous and bittersweet.
   - So, will I engage you or will I kidnap you? - Arykshoo asked his beauty.
   - Kidnap. I told you. But send a messenger to warn me. I will come out.
   - No need. I will kidnap you from your village home. Just wait!
   And they parted.
  
  
   In the Strong Trench Fort Dahawos knew about the departure of Wazermes, when it was too late. Even if she knew it before, there was no possibility for her to see him off - it would be too much trouble to organize a convoy just for such an occasion.
   The girls continued to study music and other subjects. Their course was not less, than any prestigious university would offer. Those short hours they had free from their studies, they walked along the Fort streets and its surroundings, sat on the Kuban banks, chatted with Chercesogays, Cossacks or soldiers. Daha remembered her conversation with the old plastoon, Yefimych. He said:
   - We all, in this here fortress, must strictly follow to the ruler. Every one - a
   soldier, a Cossack... Subaltern-officers and the officers, too... Even His Excellency must follow the ruler...
   - You don' say so! - teased him the girl - Are you sure, that the general himself must observe "the ruler"?
   - But of course! Is he not His majesty's soldier?
   - Of course! Of course he is a soldier of the Emperor - intervened Kathy. And whispered into Dahawos' ear: "Stop chaffing the old soldier!"
   Once, when the sun, tired after a long day, was going to have a respite, the girls were sitting on their porch. The setting sun ignited the hill. The bumblebee was laboring inside a flower, sorting out the tiny fluff, as a Circassian girl would sort out her hair, floating in the water. Kathy was daydreaming. She perceived a distant horse. She whispered her girlfriend about it. Daha was silent. But general's daughter returned to her short vision again and again. Her words were circling in the air, as the poplar fuzz. Then Kathy grew silent. She sat, propping her head with her hands. She was beautiful. The meek charm of her eyes was astonishing.
   - I am lost in my solitude, - addressed she to her friend.
   - I think, that the ring of solitude will be broken just now - said Daha.
   Pshikan, the friend of Bech, was riding to their house, accompanied by the duty officer.
   - Are you alone? - Kathy asked with a hidden hope in her voice.
   - No, my rifle is with me - Pshikan answered.
   Everybody laughed.
   - You may go, - Katherine nodded to the duty officer - thanks for delivering my dear guest to me.
   They invited their guest to the house and fussed around him, interfering with each other.
   - Let us leave him to the care of Timofei Yemelyanovich. He has to wash himself after the long road.
   - Sure.
   Yemelyanovich was busy with the water barrel, pitchers and towels, and the girls served the table. They ran to the general's pantry and brought lots of food. Everything was fine. But before they sat at the table, Kathy, forgetting about the Kabardin tradition of self-restraint, extended her hand in the direction of her guest:
   - Pshikan, hurry, give me the note!
   - Oh, yes, I should do it first of all! - Bech's messenger hurried to give her the letter.
   - I read so much here in the fort, that I cannot listen. But this letter...
   - It's better than any book! - laughed Daha.
   - It depends on the contents of the message.
   But the contents seemed extremely pleasant. Kathy's face shone with happiness.
   She read it again and again.
   - No belief in Goethe's words from this moment - said she at last. - He persists, that the life is the only verity, compared to the written word.
   - Is he mistaken? - Dahawos inquired, smiling.
   - At least for today, certainly.
   She covered that part of the letter, which she considered too personal, with her palm and said to her friend:
   - Read this.
   " ...The officers of your fortress, abreks, shepherds and ashugs - everyone has in his life an aul, village or any other hamlet where in a single house lives the woman, for whom a man is ready to ride many miles, passing gorges and valleys, or, if needed, will walk many miles, with his legs bleeding, just to see her eyes for an instant..."
   - See? - the general's daughter asked - Do you see?
   - I never knew, that our Dabech is so romantic, - Dahawos answered.
   - But I knew! I loved him for that. My life was quiet and placid. Like the surface of a lake on a windless day. The clouds reflecting lazily in the still water. Neither offence, nor exaltation. I knew what must be done, and what should be avoided.
   But you, the Kabardins, put my thoughts at disarray. You threw a stone into the placid lake. And the circles of the troubled water ran away from the place where the boulder hit the surface. They are still expanding, those circles.
   - Would you prefer to live tranquil life, without that boulder?
   - It is not in our power to reverse the past. "What would you prefer?" - you asked.
   God knows. But I cannot imagine any other life for myself now. I do not want any other life. My happiness is there, where the circles are expanding on the water. Because there is our aul, Arykshoo, Malichipkh, the mill, the smithy...
   - And Bech?
   - Oh, yes, of course. He is the principal. But he also does not exist without all of you. Without the gorge and Amysh aul he would be different. I am not sure that I would love the other, different Dabech.
   All those days, which Pshikan spent in Strong Trench Fort, the girls did not attend to the meals in the general's house. The general asked them to come with their guest, but Kathy and Daha each time thought out some reason to decline his invitation.
   Daha did not like other people to intrude on her.
   " It is not absolutely obligatory, - thought she. - or else they will impose their way of living on me. I want to live my own way. I have the right to."
   The girls went with Pshikan to Armavir aul, where Chercesogays treated them to their cuisine - Adyghe dishes with Armenian spices.
   - How do you like it? - they asked their guest.
   - Very tasty, but very hot. Too much pepper. My palate is all burnt.
   The hosts were laughing:
   - That is an Armenian way of dealing with Kabardins!
   They were fishing in the Kuban River with the Cossacks, and then Timofei cooked a famous Slavic fish soup - uha - over the campfire, which they made on the riverbank. Timofei Yemelyanovich tried to convince Pshikan, that the only way to eat that soup was to drink a glass of vodka and wash it down with a gulp of that soup. But Pshikan declined.
   Sitting on the bank of the river, Kathy said pensively, addressing either to the Bech's messenger, or to Dahawos:
   - It is perfect when you know, what will happen in an hour, or today, or after one month. But your fate makes amends in your prediction, anyway. And those amends may be different, but usually they will be contrary to your wishes.
   - No use to speak of the sad side of our life - implored Pshikan. - I haven't covered so many miles to leave some doubt or dismay in your heart, Kateh.
   And that "Kateh" from the Amysh aul instilled in Kathy's heart hope and happiness.
   When they parted with their guest, the girls "returned to the mundane life," as major Rozenkranz deigned to notice. That evening, aware that the girls will return to them, entire "high society" of the Fort gathered. Only Mr. Kruge was late. He appeared later with his sincere excuses.
   - Welcome to the table! - the general proclaimed, and the dinner began.
   Kathy was a real blabbermouth that evening.
   - What happened? Why the spleen of our hostess changed to such jovial mood? - the ladies of the fortress were whispering.
   - Her fiancИ from Kabarda was here.
   - Is there a man who wishes to marry such a madcap girl? She rides horses with this Khan maiden.
   - She is not a Khan maiden. She is a Kabardin princess.
   - What's the difference? She is a savage.
   The general, as if guessing that the evil tongues are discussing his daughter's behavior, said sternly:
   - It is well disposed to avoid speaking ill about any person behind her back.
   Daha supported Grigori Hristoforovich's endeavor with the aphorism of Saadi:
   "The secrets are not to be to be divulged to friends, because your friends have their own friends".
   - Right you are! - general was grateful to his daughter's friend for support.
   - Absolute truth!
   - These are not my words, but the words of a great oriental poet.
   - Anyway, the truth is always the truth.
   After the dinner, the guests asked the girls to sing for them:
   - We didn't hear your performance for a long time.
   Their request was not left unanswered, and Kathy with Daha did their best, singing Russian romance songs, accompanying them with a guitar.
   When the officers left to the adjoining room to participate in a card game, Katherine lost her interest in singing and became engrossed in conversation with Mr. Kruge. The banker's son expressed his interest in the guest, who visited the fortress recently.
   - Why we were not acquainted with the Kabardin djigit? It would be fascinating to know about their life in their auls, and especially about their hunting exploits.
   - I will narrate about all this to you. I spent so many years in that aul myself! I know every path in those mountains!
   - Isn't he that Kabardin fiancИ of yours?
   - No, he is not, - answered Kathy. - If he were, I would present him to you, without doubt.
   - You would do me a favor.
   Later, the general's daughter whispered into Daha's ear:
   - He is rather nosy, that Mr. Kruge, quite inquisitive.
   - Because he is in love with you. That's the reason of his curiosity, - answered
   the young Kabardin. - And you are insulting him. Is that a correct thing to do?
   - No, that is a wrong thing to do - answered Kathy, laughing.
   Colonel Polunin, who was promoted to that high rank when he was a very young officer in Daghestan, left his card game to chat to Dahawos. He was not indifferent to this highlander girl, and did not hesitate to demonstrate his affection to her. That affection was well disposed, tactful and careful. Now, speaking to her, the colonel was holding an English book in his hand.
   - I am aware, that you with Katherine Grigoryevna have a perfect command of Shakespeare's language.
   - Oh, do not flatter us, Mikhail Mikhailovich! We know that language just tolerably well!
   - But my information, according to the reconnaissance, is quite different.
   - I see, that you are ready to propose to me some new novel. What is it?
   -"Ivanhoe" by Walter Scott.
   - I have heard about that prose writer. My teacher of English insists, that his Scotch moments are wonderful. "Rob Roy", for instance.
   She took the book. and shuffled the pages.
   - I think, that you are proposing a good novel to me.
   - Because you think, that your thoughts will be in unison with the author's?
   - No, Mikhail Mikhailovich, - the princess answered. - The matter is, that by reading this book, I want to enter a very good society.
   - This time the society you will join will be really good. I assure you. My opinion is, that the author tried to be liked by his readers. All of them, without exemption.
   Dahawos looked at the colonel with a new interest. She liked him. Always neat and accurate. Fine aroma of a French perfume always indicated the part of the house he was at a certain moment. Commanding a regiment at twenty-seven, he was respected by his colleagues for knightly behavior. Blue almond-shaped Daha's eyes were fathomless. Colonel Polunin was drowning in them.
   - I will take you to Russia. As soon as you will be adult by our laws, I will marry you and take you away. Will you agree?
   - No! - answered the princess, becoming as red in the face as her raspberry shirt. -No! But I am ready to take you to my aul, if you will not change your mind!
   "It happens, that your soul will tremble - thought the colonel. - Not of fear or because of the unexpected knock on the door, but of a girl's beauty, of the whirlpool of her eyes, of the crimson lips, of the bee's waistline. But mainly - of her gait, of her manner to look askew at you, at her subdued laugh. Magic!"
   Mikhail Mikhailovich selected this book for Daha to please her, but mainly - to have a chance to talk to her. Daha could pretend to be indifferent, to smile negligently, to laugh. All that at proper moments. The colonel felt her fresh breath, saw her parted scarlet lips, the pearls of her teeth, her soft hair, cascading to her shoulders. But he restrained himself, understanding, that she is really
   child, however pretty.
   - I guessed your thoughts - said Daha at that moment.
   - What is the mystery you solved?
   - You are looking for big flaws in me, but find only small weaknesses.
   - Oh, no, dear! Such a charming maiden cannot have even minutest weak points, however tiny.
   He wanted to say "charming girl", but said "maiden" because he feared to insult his partner. Kathy came to them.
   - Kruge continues to genire* me, - she complained to her girl friend.
   -Inconvenience, which Mr. Kruge causes to you now, may bring salvation sometime.
   -To whom?
   -To you, possibly.
   The colonel considered tactful to step aside unobtrusively.
   Using this chance of the colonel's retreat, several young officers surrounded the ball princesses. The themes of their conversation were changing with giddy rate. Now they all were talking about the girls' long absence at the general's meals.
   ___________
   *genire - to discomfort
   - We looked everywhere for you, but in vain. We were... we were as... - lieutenant
   Semenov, the general's favorite, could not find the right comparison.
   - Like dried wells - without water, - Kathy prompted.
   - You have found the expression I was looking for!
   Captain Garkavi was talking to Dahawos about religion:
   - The Jews are the main reason of all the unhappiness in this world - he assured the princess.
   - But why are you so sure? - young Kabardin was genuinely surprised.
   - Because, first the God created all of us, and only after that he created so many churches for so many saints.
   Daha did not agree:
   - Even if a certain church is dedicated to a certain saint, there always is the place for all the other saints in it.
   - But to defend... to defend... - Garkavi tried to reason - What we need, in your opinion, for that?
   - Love. Love for your Motherland, eagerness for freedom.
   - And religion? Are you negating its role?
   - But why, captain! How possible? We will defend it together with our native land.
   Then they talked about uzden Misrokov from the neighboring aul, who was an undercover agent of Zass, as his father was before him.
   - The cat's son hunts mice, - said Dahawos.
   - What was that about? - asked colonel Polunin, joining their circle.
   - It means, - explained Kathy - that the apples fall not far from the apple tree.
   Mikhail Mikhailovich did not leave the girls that evening. They changed the topics of their chat, but always returned to the most perturbing one - to the war.
   - Defending your land from the imagined enemy - Polunin was saying to Daha - and that is Russia in your opinion - you ravaged your own land so, that no enemy could do.
   - Did you want us to leave our auls without resistance? - the princess was speaking in a low voice, without malice, but sadly.
   - No, I do not. But I consider, that there is no need to burn the whole saklia to warm the koonak parlor.
   - Yes, that is your mistake, - intervened Kathy.
   - What do you propose to us to do? - Daha continued to inquire.
   - My advice, take it or leave it, is: bury the axe of war. - Polunin said.
   - Should it be buried together with us, the Kabardins?
   The colonel was offended and did not conceal it:
   - You took my advice with the dose of exasperation, though it has a grain of reason in it.
   - What is it? I want to know, how the wolf got the right to represent his victims.
   - Well, we are all crucified on the face of the clock, - answered Polunin. - We shall see what we shall see.
   - What does that mean?
   - Understand me as you like. Whatever you tell me, I am sure, that the trivial toothache will disturb the commoner in Russia much more, than the aul, burnt down in the Transkuban region.
   - No! It can't be true! - the princess exclaimed.
   - True, dear Snowflake. You do not know that, because you have healthy teeth.
   - But reasoning as you do, colonel (Daha called him by his rank, not by name - a signal, that she was irritated), it is easy to get lost in your own saklia.
   Polunin was surprised:
   - Do you know the way to avoid fighting?
   Daha leaned to Kathy, as if asking for support:
   - Nothing exceptional. Just take your head in your hands and think deep.
   - Prior to fighting?
   - Of course.
   The colonel momentarily raised his both hands to his temples. The laughter that followed his jest took the tension away.
   They parted late after midnight. Though the house of the girls was next to the general's, they were escorted by a dozen of officers, who handed them to the cares of Timofei Yemelyanovich.
   Zass was often absent from the fortress. There were rumors that Cossack and Bulgarian women catered to his tastes in those hunting lodges. But there was no certain proof of that. He was too cunning a beast, that baron von Zass. When he was in the fortress, he saw the girls regularly. He did not inquire the teachers about their studies, because he was aware of their successes. But he used any chance to talk to the girls themselves. He did not make any difference between Kathy and Daha. Once Daha asked him:
   - Was it a terrible fight, when you got wounded?
   He did not answer her directly, but said:
   - Do you think that the dead lynx is better off, than the cat alive? Everyone to his business...
   The other time he inquired the princess:
   - Do you know what is infinite on the Earth?
   - Yes,- answered the girl.
   - A happy creature... I still don't know.
   Dahawos kept silence. Grigori Hristoforovich was quiet, too.
   Kathy could not bear the suspense:
   - Do not exhaust my patience! Tell me!
   - My grandfather Pago considers, that the answer to that question is: human stupidity.
   - He sure is a wise man. - Zass concluded.
   - What is the use of so many Orders? - the girl asked once.
   The general was not surprised by that question. It seemed, that he was ready to answer it long ago:
   - They defend me from the insinuations.
   Once, later, she said:
   - I have come to you seeking something new, but most probably I will return home as I were.
   - You are wrong - Grigori Hristoforovich objected. - It only seems so to you. You visited Armavir aul and the Strong Trench Fort. Have you seen anything like that before?
   - No, I did not. - Daha answered after a short pause.
   - Didn't you want to meet with general Shaitan, just to know him better?
   - Yes, I did, - confirmed the girl.
   - All these wishes of yours are fulfilled. You also made acquaintance with many officers. You studied the science and languages. You are not now the girl you were when you arrived here. Your knowledge became more diversified, you read more books, you communicated with different people... You learned to dance magnificently!
   - You are right. Of course, I am a different person now. But I was not able to notice that change take place...
   - Well, - said the general, satisfied. - You certainly learned a lot of new things.
   Everybody strove to form a new person from Dahawos, but couldn't. Officers, teachers, civilian philanderers, - nobody could displace the Kabardin images. And the Russian-German cuisine was not able to substitute the taste of the Adyghe food. She met with Chercesogays and even with the Adyghes, who took the Russian side unconditionally. She met with them, tried hard to understand them, approved of something, but when the problem of forceful transmigration was aroused, or "Circassian heads", or the harsh policies of certain generals in their dealing with the highlanders, she was a stubborn controversialist.
   These discussions usually resulted in both sides feeling offended.
   Only once Daha addressed the general with a request:
   - Take Kathy and me to a hunt...
   Zass was surprised by this request. He took out a handkerchief and began to wipe his face:
   - Well, this certainly is not a ladies' occupation. Hunting, I mean. But how can I refuse the request of my dear girls? The teachers are praising your successes in studies. Good!
   The hunt was organized superbly, as it was usually done for the dearest guests. The rangers, the kennel men, the hounds. Of course, the game was directed to the shooting positions. Trophies were aplenty. Kathy and Dahawos made but a single shot each: one killed a roe deer, the other - a giant wild boar.
   - That is the way to shoot! - Grigori Hristoforovich was as proud, as if he taught the girls shooting and self-restraint.
   After the hunt a great dinner was served in the hunting lodge. The deer liver was prepared by the rangers, and the barbecue from the filet mignon of that boar that Dahawos shot. The rangers probably knew some secret way to prepare it - nobody wanted to eat anything after that barbecue. Juicy, moderately spiced, it melted in your mouth.
   - Isn't pork prohibited to you? - major Rozenkranz, also present at the hunt, was interested.
   - No, major, you will not spoil my appetite. I am a Christian, and, as you know, this meat is not prohibited by our religion.
   They were returning home, when Zass decided to try his luck once more. The girls rejected his proposal. Kathy went to the carts, and Daha, mounted as she was, took a place behind the general. The rangers fired their rifles and shouted, trying to scare the animals and make them run in the direction of the general's firing position. Everything was going as usual. Suddenly there were shouts " A boar!, a boar!"
   The wild boar appeared right in front of Grigori Hristoforovich. He fired. He did not miss, but did not kill the beast, either. Wounded boar, infuriated by pain, attacked his offender. There was no time to reload the rifle. General tried to hit the animal with the butt of his useless rifle. But beast struck the rifle from his hands with a tremendous force and, charging the general, threw him on the ground. His great fangs were tearing into the human flesh. Situation was not dangerous - it was critical. Daha took her rifle from the slip, jumped down from her horse, put the rifle's muzzle to the beast's ear and fired.
   - Well, that's it - said she to the general, who looked annoyed, but not frightened.
   - Why, what a beast! What a beast! - he repeated.
   People were running to them from every direction.
   - What? How are you? Are you wounded, Grigori Hristoforovich?
   - Wounded, sure. How could I escape a wound? That beast could kill me easily. This girlie saved my life.
   They lifted the general's rifle. The ebony butt was broken and the barrel was twisted.
   - My favorite rifle, - sighed the general.
   Kathy run to her father and embraced him:
   - Papa! How did it happen?
   - It's a hunt, daughter - replied he simply. Then he walked to Dahawos:
   - Much obliged!
   - Don't mention it.
   - How possible?
   The girl shrugged her shoulders:
   - I do not know. But you would do the same for me, for Kathy, for every one of
   the convoy Cossacks. No other way. We wouldn't be humans if we didn't.
   - Sure, sure, - repeated Zass - we wouldn't be humans if we did not... Take the boar to the soldiers' mess! Issue a double portion of vodka to every soldier! - he ordered. And continued: - One is for my salvation. The other - to drink for dear Daha's health. Issue chihir to the Cossacks - they will also drink to those occasions.
   Then, addressing to the officers, who were standing at some distance away, chatting, he said sternly:
   - Enough of that tail wriggling! Get going!
   In the raids baron Zass was cruel and treacherous. His tactics was to deliver strikes with the cavalry - Kuban Line and Don Cossacks, very often without the artillery or infantry. He always attacked before the dawn, when the villagers were fast asleep. Then the massacre began. The highlanders, trying to escape, were breaking through the lines to the nearest forest. Zass' soldiers took the livestock, all women and children and left, putting fire to all the saklias of the aul. When the Circassians managed to collect their forces after the surprise attack and organized resistance, it was usually too late. They could not inflict any considerable losses to their enemy, though sometimes succeeded to liberate the captives.
   The general was pitiless to his subordinates during the raids, but after the victory always asked his Cossacks and soldiers to pardon him for the extremes of their service:
   - I know, brothers that I made you sweat a lot, but that is not my fault. You see which place these accursed Circassians have selected for living.
   The Cossacks replied with:
   - No trouble for us, we are accustomed to this terrain! With you we know no fatigue!
   The highlanders, in their turn, respected general Zass for his valor and his ability to keep his word. He never hid behind his soldiers, but was always in the center of the battle. Once, when a group of Cossacks was ambushed, he led his rangers into attack. The highlanders, seeing him in front of his troops on a white horse, ran to the forest edge, shouting: "Shaitan! Shaitan!" A salvo sounded, and Zass suddenly turned his horse and left the battlefield.
   - I am wounded in the belly - said he to the Cossacks and his officers.
   They took the belt away with difficulty, because the buckle was bent by a bullet. Then they took away his frock and the shirt. What a surprise it was, when they saw no wound! The general supposed, that the bullet got through, because when he felt his back with the left hand, it was smeared with blood. What really happened, was that the bullet hit the silver buckle, ricocheted and hit his left hand. Thence the blood. Making sure, that the wound is not a serious one, the general dug up the bullet from his left hand with his dagger knife and bandaged the cut with his handkerchief. Then he mounted his horse and rode back to the battle.
   The other time in the skirmish with Abadzekh * he was not so lucky. General led an attack of four hundred Cossacks but met with a desperate resistance. He ordered to retreat. At that moment the bullet from Abadzekh warrior Khashim's pistol hit him in the leg. Though the bone was intact, the wound was rather serious. His aide and the doctor were bandaging the wound, when the surrounding officers and Cossacks saw an Abadzekh, running their way. Major Rozenkranz rode to intercept him, ordering to hold fire. Abadzekh fell on his knees at the horse's forelegs.
   - Take me to Zass! - he asked.
   - Who are you? And what do you want from the general?
   - I will tell him in person...
   The major, heeding not the mystery of the highlander, took him to the baron.
   The general was lying on a boorka, wincing from acute pain. But when he saw the enemy warrior, he took a relaxed and complacent posture and addressed him:
   - What do you want Zass for?
   - In the morning you took my brother prisoner.
   - I captured many enemies. What of that?
   - We are the only two left of our family in the whole world. He is my only relative.
   Either take me into captivity with him, or release my brother.
   - Why, this is something new to me, - the baron said thoughtfully. - Have you encountered something like that before? - he asked surrounding officers and men. They murmured in low voices something that was clearly opposed to Abadzekh's request. General sent a Cossack to fetch the captured brother. When he was brought up, two brothers embraced warmly.
   - You are also captured, I see? - asked the prisoner.
   - No, I have come to ask for your release. Or we will both go to slavery.
   Zass interrupted them:
   - Approach me.
   They obeyed.
   - Love your brother - said general to his prisoner. - He deserves your affection.
   Then he gave them six golden coins and ordered to release both. When the Abadzekhs heard that story, they sent a delegation. The senior of that delegation congratulated the general with his wound and wished him a speedy recovery. He also thanked the general for his kindness to the brothers.
   - Are they mad to congratulate a man because of his wound? - major Rozenkranz was furious, when the guests departed.
   - Do not get so agitated and do not judge them. That is their tradition.
   - Will they congratulate one with his death, too?
   - No, not with death. If the death was a hero's death, they will compose a song
   about him.
   In the Strong Trench Fort Kathy was constantly attending to her wounded father. The wound got inflamed. General was thrashing around on his bed in fever. The doctor either was not able to help or the results of that help were measly. The woman quack from the neighboring aul was sent for. It was a peaceful aul. But even if the aul were fighting with Russians, the highlanders wouldn't refuse to help a wounded man. Zaza, an old Adygheyan, began to act immediately. She prepared medicinal grass decoctions for the general to drink, washed the wound with them and whispered some bewitching singsongs. All this had a good effect! After three days general was joking, drank chicken broth with the red wine and tried to deal with the service matters. Kathy did her best to help the healer, did not sleep a wink, and sat nights at her father's bed. Daha helped her to the best of her ability. Was she glad that the general was wounded? Yes, at first. Later - less and less. And, finally, she was praying for his convalescence. Commiseration is the strongest of human emotions.
   "Those who suffer may always be blamed - Dahawos thought. - For being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for having bad luck, for needing the other peoples' assistance, for being not able to render sufficient help to those who need it."
   The general ordered to pay healer Zaza five golden coins, and to present to her several silk and muslin pieces, woman shirts and slippers, et cetera. Zaza declined all gifts. The general got angry, and was genuinely offended. But Zaza was stubborn.
   - Don't you take any remuneration from your aul dwellers, too? - baron was asking.
   - How is it possible? Of course I take it. I must live somehow, mustn't I?
   - Then are my gifts so inferior?
   - They are much superior. But you are the enemy of the highlanders. And this wound you got when you were raiding my compatriots.
   - Wrong you are! I got this wound in the war. And Abadzekhs congratulated me with it.
   - I was not aware of that congratulation.
   - I never lie.
   - The highlanders know that.
   - Then accept my gifts, or explain, why you came to cure me.
   - That is our law.
   - What law?
   - That there is no such thing as alien pain. The wounded man is not a warrior. He is not a slave, he is not an enemy. First you have to cure him, and then decide, what is he.
   - You are wise people, - answered baron. - It's impossible to disrespect you.
   After that the general sent Kathy to his study to bring a jewelry box. When it was brought to him, he handed it to Zaza:
   - Select a ring for yourself!
   Zaza shook her head in negation.
   - Take care not to insult me, - baron warned.
   - Select one for me yourself.
   General sorted the contents of the box for a long time. At last he chose a ring with a stone and handed it to the Adygheyan:
   - Remember me. And stop scaring your children by general Shaitan. I shoot to kill my adversaries, they shoot to kill me... It's the war!
   Zaza opened her palm, and the general put there a marvelous ring with big Ceylon sapphire. The upper part of the stone comprised of octagonal facets and every ray of light, hitting those facets, was broken into thousands sparkling fountains, flying in different directions. That shining was strong, but pleasant to the eye.
   - Beware, Zaza, not to lose that ring together with your arm.
   - There is the God's will for every event in this life
   And they parted.
   - We part forever, I hope, - said the general.
   Later, when Grigori Hristoforovich was able to get up from his bed and walk around the room, he told a very funny story. Once they specially spread rumors that general is sick critically. True, he was suffering from malaria, but that was an old and customary illness, which did not annoy him too much. This time, people gossiped, Zass is lethally ill. Only his closest subordinates were allowed to visit him. If he had to receive any of the Circassian nobles, he did it, lying in his bed in the dark tent. His face was powdered to look pale and he spoke with pauses, slipping into delirious mumbling from time to time. His subordinates were approaching him in the presence of the highlanders with utmost care, were very sad and talked in subdued tones. An undercover agent of the fighting highlanders, Unarokov, arrived to the Russian army camp and saw, that the general is dead. Zass was lying on a camp cot, covered by the shroud, with tree candles burning at his head. One of the young officers, who did not know, that all this was a spectacle, was weeping loudly. The general's adjutant addressed to the Circassian nobles present to come after two days to take part in the funerals according to the religion of the deceased. All this was more than enough to convince Unarokov in the demise of the hateful Shaitan, and soon he brought the fighting highlanders, who were camping on the Belaya River this pleasant news. General waited till the night fell, and, forcing the Laba and Belaya rivers, attacked auls. Zass, resurrected from the dead, on his white horse was the Devil incarnate for the Circassians. But then they collected considerable force and were fighting the Russians with unencountered pertinacity. The general was seriously wounded in that battle.
   - You must not do such practical jokes, papa, - said Kathy. - This wound is the God's punishment to you.
   - Oh, come off, daughter! - general objected - the God has much more important business at hand, than my practical jokes.
   - I have heard, that the highlanders swore to assassinate Shaitan - said Dahawos. -And they mean it now.
   - They would kill me long ago, if they could.
   Daha shrugged her shoulders:
   - Now (she put an accent on that word) I do not wish evil to the father of my girl friend. I am telling you what I heard.
   - Thanks for that, anyway, - Grigori Hristoforovich said.
   The baron was recuperating. Life in the Strong Trench Fort was returning to normal. The `Lame devil" was probing into every detail, appearing in any place unexpectedly. The Cossack detachments, artillerists and plastoons were sent into new expeditions. After tense waiting they returned, always suffering heavy losses.
   - It's the war! - the general sighed, and sent the soldiers into new expeditions.
   The girls were continuing their mischief: firing at the range, riding and cutting twigs with shashkas. But once Kathy said to Daha:
   - That's it! I cannot take part in the galloping any more!
   - But why? - Daha was at a loss.
   - I just cannot!
   The Circassian pouted her lips, and did not speak to Kathy for the whole day.
   But in the evening the mystery was disclosed:
   - I cannot, because I will have a child from Bech! It may be dangerous to the baby.
   Dahawos was taken aback:
   - What? But when did you manage...
   - It did not take long. Remember that night before we arrived to the fortress, when I told you, that I would go to see Bech? Remember?
   - What will happen now? My God, what? - Dahawos clasped her head with her hands.
   - What do you expect to happen? The child will be born. I pray to God to send me a boy, or Dabech will be distressed.
   The girls whispered all the night. In the morning they directed Avanes, Chercesogay, who was at their disposal, to Amysh aul. In her letter to Dabech Katherine asked her beloved to hurry with the engagement, since her position was getting "rather piquant". Avanes was given strict instructions to destroy the letter in case of danger. For that purpose a small tube was made of the letter list, and that tube was filled with gunpowder. A small wick was fastened to one end of the tube. It was enough just to ignite that wick to destroy the letter.
   The letter was like a cold shower to Dabech. He went to Arykshoo immediately. The latter, listening to his nephew attentively, was silent for a long time. Then he said:
   - You violated the prohibition we imposed on Kathy. We feared that. But it happened.
   Now Dabech kept silence.
   - What do we do now - kidnap the general's daughter again? - asked the uncle.
   - She is not simply a general's daughter to us - she is Kateh, - answered his nephew.
   - Kateh was the sister of Amysh aul. But you do not make babies to your sister... At least by our laws.
   Dabech's face reddened, his arm involuntary moved to the handle of his dagger.
   - Don't do any mischief! That dagger on your belt was not meant for the brother of your father. There is one way only - you must marry Kathy. Pago must not know about the girl's position. Do not say anything to your brothers, either. We will tell them about it if something goes wrong with the marriage. Knowing Shaitan's temper, I will not be surprised if it does. Then we will send a scout to Dahawos for talks. There always is hope, until the man lives. Only the dead are not responsible for their actions anymore.
   - I am sorry - Dabech said.
   - Pray to the great Tkha to help us.
  
   - The horses of luck are hurried by time. - Arykshoo said to his elder brother.
   - And where are those horses?
   - In the Strong Trench Fort.
   - Oh! I get you. I thought lately, that my relatives are too unhurried. We have promised Kathy to send our people to her father. Our horses are getting too tranquil in their stables.
   - They are - Arykshoo agreed.
   - You mean, that we will not kidnap the general's daughter once more?
   - She is not only Zass' daughter now. She is our alumna, a particle of our aul.
   Pago nodded silently. He ordered the unaut girls to bring some sweets and tea to have a time to think the problem over. Sipping fragrant drink, prepared with mint and thyme, he asked:
   - Whom we will ask to help us?
   - Amysh liked to say, that one will ask a frog for help, drowning in a marsh.
   - I think that our affair is not in such a bad state. I do not see a reason to be drowning in a marsh, either.
   - But if Shaitan will decline?
   - He will not.
   - Will it be good to ask for general Otto's advice?
   - Why try to lift two melons with one hand?
   The brothers discussed the composition of the delegation.
   - I will not go. The tradition prohibits it. You will be the senior. I want to hear your proposals.
   They discussed every name, accepting or rejecting it. When Pago named prince Barakat, Arykshoo objected:
   - But he is silly!
   - That is good!
   - Why? - the younger brother was surprised.
   - If he was not a dupe, some other member of the delegation should be. Some are always more stupid in any group, than the others.
   - Who is in majority?
   - I do not get you...
   - Who is outnumbered - the clever ones or the dupes? - Arykshoo repeated.
   - I think that the real dupe is a rarity. Very often people just do not understand each other. That is why some of us seem to be sillier than the others. They cannot make themselves understood.
   After that they discussed the gifts to be presented to the bride's father. Famous Kabardin horses, Daghestan daggers, "Zulfikar" shashka with two blades, Circassian frocks from Adygheya, a saddle, incrusted with silver, gold and ivory were in that list. When Arykshoo mentioned gifts for Kathy, Pago swayed his hands in negation:
   - This is Malichipkh's problem, thank God. We will have to send someone to Tiflis to bring fashionable dresses.
   - I will go myself, - Arykshoo volunteered.
   But the old prince objected:
  -- You also will have to prepare for your own wedding with your Cossack bride.
   We will celebrate both weddings together, so that our relatives and guests will not have to travel that long road twice.
   They set the day of departure of two delegations - to Strong Trench Fort and to Yekaterinogradskaya village. But those dates had to be postponed. A messenger arrived from Lu Tin. His caravan was approaching Amysh aul. In the early morning of the next day the aul dwellers were welcoming the guests in the valley close to the aul. Kabardins are always grumbling during the sowing, because they are never ready for it, and always ready to greet their guests, because they expect them daily. This time Pago came out to greet Lu Tin, because they were koonaks now.
   - I thank the road, which brought you here - the old prince welcomed his guest.
   - Thank Gods for our meeting - answered the Chinese.
   They embraced, and stood for considerable time, at a loss what to say - emotions overwhelmed them.
   - Are you looking at me with sorrow, because I grew old and it is painful for you to see?
   - No, I am looking at you with affection, not sorrow. I thought about this
   moment many times, but when it happened, I lost all my words.
   The life is not made of duties only. There are moments of leisure, for which we love it so profoundly. Pago and Lu Tin knew it.
   - Did you travel all night to arrive to our aul in the morning?
   - The village Chinese joke, - said the guest, smiling - that if you have nothing to do today, get up with the first crow of the cock to enjoy your leisure earlier.
   - You should not travel the night paths for that, - smiled the old prince.
   All hands were busy around them. The caravan men were erecting their camp with speed and expertise. Amysh aul people were making fires under great caldrons, slaughtered livestock to feed their guests. Arykshoo approached the two elders.
   - I came to be the first to tell you good news - he addressed to the merchant.
   - The ancient said, - Lu Tin answered to the newcomer with a bow - that if you will be a dimwit, some other will be able to insert his word earlier. Tell me of your joy. It will become mine, too.
   - You have arrived on the eve of two marriages.
   - I will be happy to put the chrysanthemum petals of celebration into the old wine of time.
   - My brother is running ahead of his horse - Pago intervened -It is early to talk about the marriage, if the bride is not in her bride-room. Our men did not have a look at the faces of our brides, and our women did not discuss their dresses yet. Well, let these people have their feast here. Arykshoo and I invite you to our house to taste our bread and salt.
   - In my land I told the recipe of your staple bread - pastah - to many cooks, but they could not do it properly.
   - No wonder. We cannot prepare wine with the petals of chrysanthemum.
   Everything was ready in the koonak parlor of the old prince's house. Though all the participants of the reception were rather modest eaters, the dishes served were able to satisfy most delicate palate.
   - The aroma of these foods is enough to satisfy one's hunger for a week - said Lu Tin.
   - We have a different proverb - Pago objected - it says, that saying "halva" hundred times will not make your tea sweet.
   - Tell us, merchant, - asked Arykshoo, - what are the people of this great wide world dreaming about?
   - It is not so great, as it may seem - answered Lu Tin. - it is less than a flower in the garden of the Universe, less than a grain in the field...
   - You are sage, - said Pago's brother - and every talk with you allows me to have a gulp from the pitcher of your wisdom.
   - Thank you for your kind words, prince. I would answer your question in this way: people all over the world dream the same dream - the sun shining, but not burning; their children not dying; their bread ample. But when they have all this, they ask the Gods for gold and pearls, beautiful women, slaves and long life.
   - What about fame? - Arykshoo asked.
   - Sure! What is the use of all the other things without fame and glory?
   On the next day after a short breakfast of honey, yogurt, lakooms, cheese and tea, Lu Tin and Arykshoo ascended to the mountain plateau and were standing in the meadow above the aul. The fall was in its peak, and the fresh wind was tugging at their clothes, bending the late flowers to the ground. The Chinese was telling to his host about the Lus oldster *.
  
   Lus oldster - Confucius
  
  -- He would say to us " Such flowers may bloom only in the temple of happy
   portents" - Lu Tin gestured, indicating flowers on the meadow at their feet and far away.
   Arykshoo shrugged his shoulders.
   - Take this mountain, for example. If you look at it standing close to it, the mountain is great, from afar - it is smaller. From our side - it is sharp, like a Sind helmet, flat from the other.
   - No. For me it does not change. I look at it when I depart on a raid and look at it when I arrive - it is the same.
   This time even the arrival of the caravan could not distract Arykshoo from some nagging feeling. It was taking away the joy of his marriage to Ustia, and happy settlement of Wazermes' affairs.
   - What is this feeling? - Arykshoo asked his guest.
   - Merchants can buy and sell everything. Let me buy your anxiety. Tell me about it.
   - But there is nothing to tell. It is just a feeling I cannot explain.
   - Then let us go to the caravan men. A Hindu fortuneteller is travelling with us to the far countries. He will foretell you the things, which trouble your soul.
   They went to the fortuneteller, and he predicted, that all Arykshoo's family will perish, but will be revived by a woman.
   - When this will happen?
   - That is a thing, which will never be predicted.
   Of all the aul Malichipkh was the only person who was not glad to see the caravan. Pretending to be sick, she did not come out to meet Lu Tin, rejected expensive gifts, giving them away to the uzden wives. She was obviously suffering and waiting for the guests to depart.
   - I am so solitary - she said to Adiyuh.
   - Solitary in what?
   - In my lonesomeness...
  
   - My seven sons with their uzdens will escort you to Karachi auls. Nobody will venture to attack your caravan in their presence - Pago said to Lu Tin.
   His seven sons, born from one woman, Pago brought up to be as daring as he was. The horse, the saber, the bow with the arrows - these were their games and their toys. Brought up in different auls by different atalyks, the brothers were as similar as seven lilacs on the alpine meadow, like seven stars of Big Bear Constellation, like seven blades of the seven daggers made by one smith. When she knew about Pago's decision to send all the seven brothers on the escort mission, Malichipkh tried to reason with their father:
   - Wise people never keep all their money in one chest. How come that you decided to send all your descendants on one mission?
   - But this is a promenade. Let them limber a little. Their horses are bored at their hitch posts.
   - There are no easy roads. The horse may stumble on a plain road and threw his rider down, and then...
   - I have no sons that fell from their saddles easily.
   - Send Dabech with his uzdens.
   - I promised to Lu Tin, that all my sons would escort him.
   Malichipkh went to Arykshoo.
   - Your brother lost his vigilance with years, - and she told him about her doubts. - I see bad dreams lately. Black snakes are swirling at my bed, biting my sons. I am afraid. Help me.
   Arykshoo went to his brother.
   - Listen to what Malichipkh says.
   - Every man has his fate written on his forehead.
   - Written by whom?
   - Written by God.
   - One eye dos not see, what the two eyes see - insisted the younger brother.
   - Half of the words said by you here have no meaning! - Pago answered.
   - Dismiss the bad half and listen to the valid one.
   But Arykshoo's arguments looked like the movements of the fiddler, trying to make a melody on the fiddle without strings. No melody resulted.
   - I will not let the boys go alone. And Jelihstan will stay home.
   It was said in such a manner, that the old prince understood - any more argument would result in a quarrel.
   - Let it be your way. But I do not understand, why so much fuss is raised about as simple a trip.
   Arykshoo did not answer, raised and went out of the room. And now, sitting with Lu Tin in his tarantass, he remembered that conversation with his brother.
   "he is getting old and careless" - he shook his head. - We have a golden rule - not to send two brothers on one raid."
   - What are you thinking about, prince? - the merchant was interested.
   - Just some thoughts assonant to the tarantass wheels rumbling.
   - I see that they are not merry ones.
   - If the beautiful maiden will bite a green plum, her pretty face will be distorted.
   Lu Tin nodded. They drove long time in silence after that. The caravan, which departed two days ago, was still ahead with the twenty-five Amysh aul djigits escorting it. Dabech was their commander. The other nephews of Arykshoo were escorting the tarantass with their uncle and the merchant. Two horses of Arykshoo and two horses of Lu Ting were fastened to the cart. Next morning Jelihstan with Pshikan caught up with them. How did he succeed to persuade Malichipkh to let him go? Arykshoo asked him about it during their stop.
   - I think that the sadness in my eyes helped me to persuade her, - said the clever youth.
   They were discussing religion during their lunch stop.
   - In Amysh aul, - Arykshoo told to his guest - we managed to conciliate Pagan traditions with Christianity and Islam. Islam did not blind us. New religion is connected to the old one, like you put one stone to the other building a house. And many Kabardins turn to the Turkey's side after accepting Islam, considering its Sultan to be the most powerful sovereign of the world. This mistake is supported by Turkish mollas. Turkey is devoting much attention to Kabarda because of the central position of our country among other nations of the Caucasus.
   Lu Ting nodded his understanding.
   - In my country the fine lotus flower is growing from the pond scum. But it is clear, as a child's kiss. Any religion is clear and wise. Listen, what the prophet Muhammad says, let him rest in peace, as the righteous say: "Three things I like in this world: the fragrance, the woman, and the prayer, which pleases me".
   The next topic of their conversation was a woman. Arykshoo said, that he had met with Ustia, that they are soon going to celebrate their marriage, and that their son, a grown up person nearly, went to study to Russia. Lu Tin was happy to see joy in the eyes of the prince.
   - She forgave me - told Arykshoo to the merchant.
   - A woman will always forgive after suffering her lot.
   - No. I think that the reason was only one - for Wazermes to have a father.
   - That is also probable, - the merchant consented.
   - Only women are able to make poets and singers from the men. Our shogen insists, that they manage to do it, because they distribute apples.
   - Adam, testing one grain of wheat, was exiled from the Paradise.
   - Was it not the apple, then?
   - What is the difference - for what the first man was driven out of Paradise? - Lu Tin brushed away that objection.
   Then they talked about the way ahead.
   - Now we are moving to Suudshuk - a forest on the Black Sea shore. There I will decide the further way. You will accompany us to the Taubiy aul and return - said Lu Tin.
   - No, - Arykshoo objected - Pago ordered to escort you to the Nogay Murza Mutalib. We are friends with him. Murza will provide further escort.
   They caught up with the caravan by the next midday.
   Far away, between Mashuk and Beshtau mountains, the Taubiy aul was distinguishable. It was the possession of Taubiy clan.
   At a distance of three rifle shots from the aul the column was met by famous abrek Cavkazos - the favorite of the local Kabardins with the Scythian name.
   - People of general Shaitan visited Taubiy - he said to Arykshoo - and left at night. What has he in common with Shaitan? Take care!
   The prince thanked abrek and ordered his nephews to give him some dried lamb meat, fried millet flour and cheese.
   - I will be around. - Cavkazos promised. - I do not believe Taubiy.
   There was a time when Pago went to a raid with the owner of this aul. Arykshoo saw him in a battle in Transkuban territory. Bold, prudent and insidious. But what the prince did not like in him was his greed. When they were dividing the loot, he was behaving not like a Kabardin, let alone a Kabardin noble. But Pago praised Taubiy, considered him to be his koonak and sent his sons with this caravan just to get them acquainted with the owner of the Taubiy aul.
   -Talk with him, get acquainted with his sons - said he, seeing them depart.
   The information he got from Cavkazos did not alarm Arykshoo, but put him on his guard. And that is why when the sons of Taubiy came out to welcome the guests, he gave an order, which seemed strange to many.
   - Lu Tin with the caravan will stay out of the aul. Dabech and all the guards - with the caravan. Do not unsaddle the horses, just dry their backs with straw. The caravan men must have their weapons at hand.
   - Is something wrong, prince? Are you worried by something? - Lu Tin asked.
   - What shall I be worried about, if my horse is near about - Arykshoo tried to turn all this into a joke.
   - But your orders...
   - Malichipkh's worries and these night visitors from Zass call for vigilance.
   Then Arykshoo called Badynoko, Kaitsuk, Nasren, Panuko, Hamisha and Jelihstan aside and told them:
   - Do not unsaddle your horses in the aul. Two of our uzdens will accompany us there, but they will not enter the koonak parlor. By our tradition, if they do not, they may keep their weapons on them. Let them be ready. Put two loaded pistols into each of your bags. Keep two for me, too. Keep your bags with you whatever happens.
   The nephews nodded their understanding and rushed to fulfill his orders.
   - Yapanas! Totresh! - Jelihstan called the uzdens.
   At this moment Pshaya, the elder son of Taubiy approached:
   - Something wrong with you? Any problems?
   - We are dealing with them - answered Arykshoo. He decided, that if they will be attacked by taubiyans, the first of them he would kill would be Pshaya.
   - Let's move then! My father is waiting for you!
   Arykshoo steered his horse in motion. They were moving in the direction of the dawn. The morning fog enveloped the closest hills, swirling over the river. Mount Mashuk was recognizable in the white bashlik of sleeping clouds. When the cavalcade approached the saklia of the noble, aul was still sleeping. But in the homestead the servants and serfs were busy, preparing everything for the guests.
   Violating all traditions of the Adyghe etiquette, Arykshoo tried to enter the koonak parlor with his weapons, but his host threw his arms wide to embrace his guest and said:
   - You have not come to fight with me, have you? Leave your rifles, pistols and shashkas in the anteroom. Be my guests!
   Pago's brother ordered to hand the weapons to Yapanas, and whispered to him:
   - Shoot first, if need be. We are here. Your task is to hand us our weapons without delay.
   Totresh, who was guarding the saddled horses, had his instructions earlier.
   Sitting his gusts in the koonak parlor, Taubiy inquired about the health of the old prince, remembered some of the raids they were in together. By that time unauts brought in the three-legged tables with hors d'oeuvres.
   - Help yourself! - the host invited.
   But inviting his guests, Taubiy did not hurry to eat himself. Noticing that, Arykshoo did not touch the food, either. He knew, that his nephews would not touch the food until he will not commence eating. When Taubiy took a hot lakoom and a piece of cheese, Arykshoo did the same. Taubiy sipped his Kalmyk tea, and Arykshoo followed. The nephews followed strictly the actions of their superior.
   Taubiy, feeling the tense atmosphere of the parlor, put the unfinished lakoom on the table and asked:
   - I do not get, what's troubling you? Why are you so tense? Are not we Adyghes? Are not we koonaks?
   The guest was silent. After a considerable pause, he asked:
   - Is something unusual happening here?
   - Why you did not bring the merchant with you?
   - He never leaves his caravan - was the answer.
   - But was not he a guest of Pago in his saklia?
   - How do you know? - Arykshoo feigned surprise.
   - Prince, - said Taubiy - my nobility obliges me to tell... to inform you...
   Arykshoo was silent. The noble was looking for words.
   - So, what your nobility obliges you to do, may I ask? - Badyn inquired. And added modestly: - If I have a right to ask at all?
   - Yesterday our Hasa decided to seize the merchant's goods.
   The nephews of the prince jumped from their seats, grabbing the handles of their daggers.
   "Ah, the youth!" - thought Arykshoo.
   - Sit down! - he ordered. It is not your business - to express indignation. Not in my presence.
   And he addressed to his host:
   - What will we do with the caravan men?
   - We will sell those who will not resist, and kill those who will.
   - I thought about such a possibility on our way here - Arykshoo said quietly.- May I explain to my nephews details of your plan?
   - Yes, you may. - The noble consented. - I will leave you alone.
   Arykshoo, speaking secret farshibze, said to Pago's sons:
   - Jelihstan will return to caravan and will tell them to proceed to the Nogays under the convoy of Dabech's detachment.
   - What will we do? -said the youngest of the brothers.
   - We will try to break through from the aul. I think that Hagoor, Bech's atalyk, is already near the Taubiy aul. We set to meet here to return together to Amysh aul for the weddings. They will be not less than thirty men. With that support we will manage. And, remember, Cavkazos also promised to be nearby. He alone is equal to twenty warriors. Now all depends on you, Jelihstan. Remember, that you must not return back here! - his intonation was strict.
   At this moment he saw Malichipkh, standing in a black dress in the far corner of the parlor. She was pale and trembling. "Take the boys immediately and leave, you have no more time for talking" - she begged.
   - Have you seen that? Have you? - he asked his nephews, bewildered.
   - What should we see?
   - Your mother, Malichipkh!
   The nephews were looking at him in astonishment.
   - Take the pistols from the bags. Hide them! Stick them into your belts behind your backs!
   The young men obeyed. They barely finished their activity, when Taubiy entered the room.
   - What is your decision?
   - I convinced my nephews. There will be no other chance like this. I will send Jelihstan with the order to set a camp for the night and to bring Lu Tin here. This will save us much trouble.
   - Be it so! But two of my men will accompany Jelihstan, too.
   A quick patter of hooves was heard in a minute. The host, seeing the messengers go, returned to the parlor. Everybody kept silence.
   - Now we must decide, how we will divide the loot - said the host.
   - We refuse to take the prisoners. - Arykshoo was firm.
   - I understand. It means, that your part of the goods will increase. We will give you... one tenth.
   Arykshoo calculated the distance Jelihstan covered by now. "Too early" - he decided. And began to bargain.
   - That won't do, ziuskhan! We want half of the goods.
   Their host resented:
   - Think less about the gains. Think about yourself!
   - I do not get you - the guest grew circumspect.
   - That's me who does not get you! What for I will give to you half of the goods?
   The taubiyans will take all the goods they want - with you or without. They can take you as their captives, too - if they desire.
   - You forget about Pago.
   - He is old and cannot compete with me.
   - You are mistaken about Pago and Amysh aul dwellers.
   - One tenth! - Take it or leave it! - said Taubiy curtly and left the room.
   Arykshoo put his nephews at the corners of the parlor.
   - This trouble wouldn't find us, if we didn't travel bigger half of the way to meet it. The most important now is to get our rifles. We have the charges in our bags. Panuko, try to look out into the anteroom - how far is the way to our rifles?
   Panuko approached the door with a cats step, holding two pistols. One moment - and he was outside the parlor. Two shots sounded in salvo, and one in return. Panuko was throwing their rifles into the wide-opened door of the parlor, then rushed inside, closing the door.
   - What happened to Yapanas?- the prince asked.
   - They cut his throat.
   Amysh warriors took their rifles, pistols and shashkas and checked the charges.
   "Has Jelihstan reached the caravan?" - that was the question which interested all of them.
   Pago's junior was cleverer than his age. Riding a couple hundred yards from the saklia, he reined his horse.
   -Why, - he said - we forgot our manners in this business. I must present you with those gifts we prepared beforehand to those we will make acquaintance with. - With these words he opened his saddlebag and took out two pistols. - These two are for you! - and he fired two shots nearly point blank, killing his wardens. They were instructed to kill him as soon as they left the aul. Reloading his pistols, he rode to Dabech. Arykshoo did not know all this. But he believed in his nephew. He was the best. After Dabech.
   Dozens of armed Taubiy aulers gathered around the Taubiy saklia.
   - They killed Alidj, Badyk and Albech! They are murderers! Death to them! Death!
   Arykshoo said:
   - We will not manage to break through to our horses. Without them we can do but one thing - sell our lives dearly - and he began to sing an ancient Kabardin song about heroes. The nephews intoned.
   At this time he saw Malichipkh again. "Panuko is wounded. Help him."
   Arykshoo rushed to his nephew:
   - Are you wounded?
   - It is a slight scratch. One of the guards managed to fire before I got him with my dagger.
   - That's why they are shouting three names, not two - the prince said.
   They applied gunpowder to the Panuko's wounded shoulder and bandaged it with a hem of a shirt.
   - Look into the window - are there horses anywhere?
   - No horses in sight - was the reply.
   - We will not be able to defend ourselves in this parlor for long - they will burn it -Hamisha said.
   - Quite possible - Arykshoo agreed.
   At that time Taubiy was consulting his aulers.
   - We will not be able to take them alive, even if we storm the house.
   - You forgot, that doing this we are beginning a war with Pago - said Sosym, the oldest of the uzdens, gathered around the saklia.
   - Are you afraid of the old prince?
   - Aren't you?
   The aul owner gave an order to storm his own house. Dozens of armed taubiyans rushed to the house. Six shots sounded, then six more. Then the salvoes were of five rifles only. "One is busy reloading rifles" -Taubiy decided and was right.
   His supporters were carrying the dead bodies from the house walls.
   - What are the results of our attack? - he inquired.
   - Twenty dead. One wounded will die soon.
   - My god! - the noble caught his head in his hands - And this is only the beginning! I knew, that this Arykshoo is the devil incarnate. The Pago's sons are nothing better, too. They will shoot all our men.
   - Ignite the saklia. Burn them alive - said one-eyed Ali, who migrated to this aul from Transkuban territory.
   Malichipkh again appeared before her brother-in law. "Get away! They will burn the house now!"
   - Reload your pistols and rifles! - Arykshoo ordered. - We will have to break through! Do not miss now! I am not speaking about the charges but the time will be short.
   All the aulers, deceived by the news, that the aul is attacked by abreks, were running to their master's house.
   - Go! - Arykshoo ordered.
   Six warriors broke out of the traitor's house. Six shots sounded in a salvo, and six enemies fell. Than again six shots and six more bodies. The disorderly fire of the aulers was the answer.
   - Go to the oak tree! -Arykshoo shouted.
   They managed to break through to the old oak, with a small stream flowing nearby. It was sufficiently deep at the stem of the tree.
   - Into the water! Use the stream banks as the trench walls!
   Four out of his five nephews were wounded. Nasren's wound was a grave one.
   - Well, that's it, - said Nasren. No use of me now. Take my rifle and the charges. leave me pistols only.
   - Do as he said - Arykshoo ordered. He bandaged the wounds of his nephews, remembering the words of Malichipkh: " I do not know how I get my premonitions. They come from nowhere, and always suddenly, as if sent by Heaven. But each of them becomes my deep belief soon".
   "Help your sons! - begged her Arykshoo mentally. - I am not asking for myself. But I am ready to die twice for every one of them".
   From the side of the saklia they left just now, Malichipkh was coming to them in white clothes. No, not coming. She was flying.
   - Don't you see now? - Arykshoo cried. - Don't you see your mother?
   But the boys were silent. Malichipkh flew to Nasren to close his eyes with her white hand: `Farewell, sonny". Arykshoo crept to him to say his good-bye. Then he began to sing a sad and slow song.
   - Ori-dada, ori-dada! - intoned the brothers of the deceased, reloading their rifles. They tore the pieces of cloth from their shirts to help bandage each other's wounds.
   - Ori-dada, Ori-dada! - their chant was flying to the sky.
   - What can I do to save you, my boys? Oh, great God, take my soul, throw it into the inferno, but save them! - Arykshoo cried.
   - Stop, Arykshoo. - Kaitsuk asked him quietly. - Don't. We will persevere, we will break through.
   Blood was dripping through his bandage. Arykshoo extracted the bullet from the cartridge, put some gunpowder to the wound and pressed it.
   - Hold on! I will carry you out.
   - I can manage myself so far - answered the youngster.
   Panuko handed the loaded rifle to Arykshoo and took the empty one to load it.
   - Spare your charges! Nobody knows the time we will have to hold on until our support will arrive.
   - We have our shashkas and daggers, - Hamisha said.
   Panuko, who was the first wounded by taubiyans, was silent. He was suffering from pain, but was loading his rifle and firing it in businesslike manner.
   "Real marksmanship! - thought Arykshoo - Not a single miss. The other brothers are as good, too"
   - The taubiyans are paying high price for their greed - said he aloud.
   - They are not guilty! - Hamisha objected. - Taubiy deceived them. He told them that we are abreks, attacking their aul.
   - It is easy to deceive anyone, who wishes to be deceived - intervened Badyn.
   Panuko made one more shot, hitting the auler, who was running from one position to the other. Tall man in a fur hat threw his arms absurdly in the air, as if trying to fly, and fell. Reloading his rifle, Panuko was looking at the clouds, chased by the wind. Nagging anguish was squeezing his heart by a cold hand.
   " Let go!" - he wanted to ask, but stopped. To ask whom? Then he saw the sunflowers, turning into many bright suns. They were nodding their heads: "Look, aren't we beautiful?". Far away he saw his native mountains, all dressed in ermine. And the river at the bottom of the gorge. It was not roaring today. It purled.
   "Why it is so tranquil today? - thought the youth, fainting. He came to his senses and saw that Arykshoo was rubbing his cheeks and Badyn was sprinkling his face with stream water.
   At this moment Arykshoo again saw Malichipkh: " You are being enveloped! The enemy is at your rear!"
   Without losing an instant, he shouted:
   - We are attacked from the rear! Meet them with your fire!
   Fifteen horsemen were galloping along the stream to the place, where they were lying. The Amysh warriors met them with a salvo. Five of the attackers fell on the ground. But the others managed to open fire. The bullet hit Panuko in the chest. He did not feel any pain - the other wound tortured him for too long.
   - I am dying, it seems, - he wondered. He said it quietly, but was heard by all his relatives, left alive.
   - Pistols! - Arykshoo shouted.
   A salvo of pistol fire was the end to two more taubiyans. Arykshoo crawled to Panuko to close his eyes.
   - Excuse me! I could not save you, too.
   Malichipkh flew down from the cloud: "Do not blame yourself! You all will die. Someone a little later, then the others. Do not ask the God what you will not get."
   No one threw his Damask blade, or a pistol, or a rifle away. Their bodies were dying, but their gallant souls continued to fight.
   - Reload your rifles and pistols - Arykshoo ordered.
   He did not have to say that. Badyn, Kaitsuk and Hamisha were ready.
   - They must not guess, that we lost two of our brothers. Make a salvo, then two rifles shoot separately.
   The attackers were approaching mounted from both sides, firing rifles and pistols. Amysh djigits managed to kill ten of them, before they retreated.
   - My God, there is no end of them, - moaned Hamisha. He was hit in the chest and belly.
   - Oh, my boy, - Arykshoo said, getting closer to the wounded - the horse of our luck is lame on all four legs.
   One more of his nephews was dying on his hands.
   - My atalyk was teaching me: "The death is a greatest mystery which opens only to those who cease to be alive" - Hamisha's lips whispered. - Now I am solving that mystery.
   An owl cried inconsolably nearby.
   "In the daytime?" - Arykshoo was surprised. He called Malichipkh by name, but did not get an answer.
   Taubiyans attacked again. Loosing several of their men, they retreated.
   By that time Dabech alarmed the caravan. Escorted by twenty-five Amysh horsemen, headed by Jelihstan, it was withdrawing rapidly from the accursed aul.
   - When Lu Tin and his people will be out of danger, leave them and attack the aul from the opposite side, where the enemies do not expect. Your aim is to save your brothers and Arykshoo. Or to carry their bodies from the battlefield. - said the senior brother.
   - What about you?
   - I am staying. Soon the Cavkazos will be here. And Hagoor with his people. I hope we will be in time.
   Caravan was still visible, when Cavkazos found Dabech.
   - Was I right?
   - To our regret!
   - What shall we do?
   - Wait Hagoor or to surprise the attackers from the rear, in order to help Arykshoo and brothers.
   - I select the second variant.
   The warriors checked their weapons. They had four loaded pistols and two rifles each. They entered the village secretly, directed by the sounds of shooting. Each had three spare horses. Dabech took from Lu Tin a piece of fine scarlet silk.
   - We will let it fly in the wind when attacking. It will horrify the aulers - Bech said.
   - All right. Let's do it.
   They stormed into the Taubiy formation with their spare horses, firing their rifles and pistols, with two scarlet banners flying. Taubiyans retreated in horror.
   - Here are the horses! - Cavkazos shouted, reaching the old oak - Don' loose time!
   But there were no people to mount the spare horses. Three of five brothers were dead. Two were wounded. Only Arykshoo was without a scratch.
   - Do not loose time! - repeated Cavkazos.
   Dismounting from his horse, he was fastening the bodies of the dead and wounded to the horsebacks with the raw leather belts. Arykshoo and Dabech helped him.
   - Let's get out of this beastly den!
   - You go! I must recover the bodies of Yapanas and Totresh. - Arykshoo answered.
   - But Hagoor will appear soon. - Dabech was trying to dissuade his uncle. But in vain.
   - Leave him alone! It's useless - Cavkazos said. - He has too high standards of honor.
   Dabech and Cavkazos have left the aul with their sad load.
   Arykshoo broke into Taubiy saklia, brought out the body of Yapanas, threw him across the saddle and fastened it with belts. He was looking for Totresh now, but couldn't find him anywhere. That time was enough for the Taubiy aulers to come to their senses and return to the place of bloody battle. Dozens of dead bodies were spread around. The wounded were moaning and imploring for help. The prince did not pay any attention. Only once, seeing, that one of the wounded was aiming at him, he shot him in the head. And said with authority to the other wounded, lying around:
   - Stop that! Lie quietly! Your countrymen will help you, let the God curse them for their treachery!
   About twenty men from Taubiy aul gathered in front of Arykshoo, headed by their master.
   - Hey, you, the children of swine! Bring me the body of Totresh and let me fight honestly with your coward noble. Let it be a duel, if he is a man, not a son of a bitch!
   - Shoot! Shoot him! - Taubiy shouted.
   The moments were passing and Arykshoo understood, that he was loosing the advantage. He raised his rifle and fired. Taubiy fell, shouting:
   - Oh, Allah, you have punished me!
   Arykshoo was fired upon, too. He fell his horses and dropped on the earth behind them. He was firing accurately, but forces were too unequal. Arykshoo felt several bullets hit him, but did not feel the pain. He fired and his every shot reached its target. Loosing consciousness, he saw Dabech, who was galloping with his shashka high above his head. He saw that the taubiyans were retreating in panic, just to be attacked from the rear by Jelihstan with five uzdens of the Amysh aul. Dabech never saw anything of the kind. Jelihstan was cutting every victim of his in two.
   "Where from he acquires this tremendous force? - Bech thought. - Probably, the Saint George himself is revenging the taubiyans with his shashka for their treachery.
   - What are we waiting for? - the youngest of Pago's sons rode to him.
   - We cannot find the body of Totresh.
   Jelihstan rushed to aulers, and caught one of them. The others run away. Holding him by his throat, he squeezed it until the eyes of the captive were ready to burst out from their orbits.
   - Where is the body of our comrade? Talk!
   The taubiyan was only shaking his head.
   - Release his throat, he cannot answer you!
   Jelihstan let go.
   - He is there, very close - said the auler, showing the place with his trembling hand.
   At this moment one of the wounded aulers gathered enough strength to cock and fire his pistol, aiming at the younger brother.
   - My back! - Jelihstan moaned. - Dabech, explain to my father, that I was not running from the battlefield, that it was a treacherous bullet.
   Dabech rushed to the murderer of his brother, cut his head away with his shashka and booted it with his leg.
   - Jelihstan! The hope of our clan! The best of us...
   Amysh warriors were hurrying him:
   - Prince! We have no time to loose!
   They rode from the aul, carrying with them their mournful load.
   Cavkazos approached Dabech:
   - Your atalyk has arrived. You don't need me any more. Farewell!
   - See you! I am indebted to you! - Dabech said.
   - We are all indebted to someone. Often we forgive our debtors, sometimes we pay them with our blood, and sometime we avenge them with the blood of our offenders. I do not envy you. How will you appear before your father and mother with such a load? Let Tkha help you to overcome your grief and sorrow.
   With these words abrek disappeared among the hills, as if vanishing into thin air.
   It is impossible to describe the grief of Hagoor at the sight of his alumni, his dead brothers and Arykshoo.
   - I was late but for several hours - he said. - If we did not stop for our last respite, we would be on time to avoid these deaths.
   -The warrior, who lost his battle will always ask himself that question; "How come that I lost that fight?" - said the alumni to his teacher.
   They were discussing their revenge to the Taubiy aul.
   Hagoor counted his army.
   - We are forty - he said. - Five of them will go with carts, carrying the bodies. The rest will surround the aul. At my signal shot we will storm the village, and kill all the men that will run out of their saklias. Then we will meet here, in this place and will catch up with the carts. Do you agree with my plan, sonny? - the atalyk addressed his alumni.
   But that was silent.
  -- Do you agree with the plan, or do you want to make some amends?
  -- Yes, - Dabech uttered - I would like some amendments.
  -- Tell me.
  -- I ask you, ada, to escort the carts with the bodies of Arykshoo and my brothers.
   Allow me to avenge them. I will deal with the Taubiy aul.
   - Let it be as you wish - atalyk consented at once. - But remember: the revenge should not cloud your reason. There is no courage without nobility.
   Dabech kept silence. Hagoor departed without delay, taking five men. When the carts and the escort vanished from view, Dabech asked his warriors:
   - Who has a bow and arrows?
   There were ten of them.
   - Have you got sulfur?
   - What for is the bow and arrows without sulfur?
   - Then listen. We will hide in the ravine till late after midnight. Before the dawn we will surround the aul and will ignite it from all the sides with the arrows with sulfur. Then we will storm the aul by four groups, igniting the roofs of the saklias, which are not yet burning. Then we again envelop the aul, killing everyone, trying to get out.
   - Hagoor would not like it.- Aslanbek, one of the Adygheyan uzdens, objected.
   - What we do with the old men, women, children? - asked Hagoor's friend Bek-Naur, invited by Hagoor to take part in the marriage festivities.
   - No one of them must escape alive. Not a single soul. Hagoor delegated me his powers of the leader. This is my decision.
   - Prove your rightness - Bek-Naur insisted - what is the blame of the women and children?
   - They are taubiyans.
   Even several of the Amysh aul warriors, who escaped death in the massacre made by Taubiyans just by their sheer luck, doubted the Bech's decision.
   - We must avenge the treason, - said Pshikan. - But what we must do with the women and the babies?
   - We are avengers, not Gods. We have no time to judge righteously. We have time for revenge only.- Pago's son answered.
   Adyghes are deliberating for a long time, doubting, but after the decision is accepted, they are swift and firm. Dabech knew that quality of his compatriots and was sure, that the main thing is to persuade them. He succeeded at last.
   Dividing into four groups, they encircled the aul and showered burning arrows on it from the close range. Riding inside with the burning torches, they were igniting the straw and reed roofs. The strong wind intensified the fires and transformed them into one grand fire. Women crying, children weeping, the livestock mooing... People, trying to escape fire, were running to the forest, or the riverside, or into the fields, but wherever they run, they were met with the rifle shots. The terrain was illuminated by the great fire. The wind and the flame roared. The shots boomed. Dabech's people were doing their deed. At last, vehement from the massacre, they gathered at the outskirts of the aul. They satisfied their lust for revenge.
   - Everybody here?
   - Nobody is absent.
   - Off we go, then!
   When they caught up with the Hagoor's caravan, atalyk inquired:
   - What was that fire I saw?
   - I burned the aul down - Dabech answered. He said "I", taking all the responsibility on himself only.
   - Allah will not forgive you that - said the atalyk. He did not know yet, that nearly all the population of the aul was exterminated. - Do not say anything to Pago. His soul will not accept such revenge. I taught you the wise maxims of our ancestors: "Be lucky in the battle, but not insidious. Not every victory is worthy to compose a song about it".
   Hagoor sent his twenty-five horsemen back to Adygheya, leaving only his sons, and Aslanbek with Bek-Naur to accompany him. They traveled the road of mourning.
   On the carts, each drawn by two oxen, Dabech was driving his sad load to the native aul. Adygheyan brothers of Dabech - Aznaur, Tembot and Sahatbi - sung a song about hero Baxan, son of Dao, whose seven brothers perished in the battle with the Hots at that very place, where on the bank of Etoko River, on a funeral mound, stood a statue of a young man in a hat and beshmet, with the narrow belt on his waist. At the bottom of that statue was an inscription, telling about him.
   The squall hit them unexpectedly. First the cloud filled with the rumbling thunder. Then the rain poured. It was falling from the sky with the force of the roaring waterfall. The thunderbolts were hitting the earth by the whips of the furious Gods. They blinded and frightened the travelers, setting adjacent trees aflame. Hagoor ordered to put the carts into a circle, with the oxen's heads in the center. All horsemen dismounted and prayed to Saint George, holding the horses by bridles. Nobody could tell afterwards how long that inferno continued. Eternally, it seemed.
   - What is my guilt? - cried Bech, raising his hands to the sky. - Didn't I avenge my brothers' blood? Didn't I recover their dead bodies from the enemies? Do not I carry their remains to my father and mother? What else should I do? What is my fault?
   At this moment a horseman on a snow-white horse appeared. His uncovered head was shining in the golden halo. His cloak was flapping behind his back. He was holding reins with on hand, and the long lance - with the other.
   Nobody heard his voice, but everybody understood his words: "Avenging the righteous blood, you spilled to much innocent blood. The cruelty does not live beside valor. The evil will not make you happy, Dabech".
   The rain stopped instantly. The wind blew the clouds away. Bright-red sun, horribly beautiful, stood behind the mound, making the white horse rider's white clothes crimson. Then he dissolved, as if entering the sun. Humans, more astonished than frightened, were not able to utter a word.
   - It was Taush Gerge - said Aznaur at last.
   - It was Aus Gerg - said Tembot.
   - It was Saint George - whispered Sahatbi.
   - Since it happened at the funeral mound of Duka-Bek, it was Baxan - said Hagoor firmly.
   - Who is he, that Baxan? - Sahatbi asked.
   - His other name is the Saint George. - And Dabech's atalyk began to sing with his hoarse voice:
  
   The heroism of Baxan illuminates
   Nart nation with its valorous feats
   He is strong on his white horse
   Which takes him home from wherever he was
   Our people worships him - he is a virtuous Spirit...
  
   Hagoor estimated their travelling time so that they should arrive to the Amysh aul in the morning. All these days Malichipkh was feeling disturbed, and every dawn went to the outskirts of the village, where the gorge began, if you were going to the plains, or where the gorge finished, if you were travelling from the plains to the aul. She was thrashing along the bank of the tempestuous river, crying like a she-wolf sometimes. This morning she was at that very place, where the Almighty put her.
   - There, there they are, my boys! - she saw the horsemen and the carts. - But why the ravens are circling in the sky, crowing so sadly? Why I do not hear the song of the warriors, returning home with good news?
   The song was heard and was growing more and more loud in the gorge with the singers approaching. It was a song, which the sons of Hagoor composed during their journey:
   Our princess, Malichipkh!
   Our wise and loving nana!
   We brought the bodies of your sons
   For you - and for a burial mound!
  
   Malichipkh ran from one cart to the other, calling her son's names. But the warriors surrounded the carts, singing the funeral song. The river was suffocating in moans at the bottom of the gorge. The ravens cried in the sky. The wind was tearing the clothes of the people, but did not touch the white shrouds of the dead.
   From this moment Kabarda dressed into mourning clothes. There were no weddings, no feasts, no dancing. Vali of Kabarda was hurrying to Amysh aul. Russians also came to express their condolences. This time colonel Nazarov arrived together with captain Maximov. Ubetsok sent a delegation from the Kislovodsk headquarters and promised to punish the murderers. The people that gathered in the aul were so numerous, that the fires for the funeral repast had to be made in the valley. It was decided to make one mound to Arykshoo with Pago's sons. All those gathered - aulers and the people arrived from afar, participated in the erection of that funeral mound. When hundreds and hundreds of the condoling were leaving the aul, they passed Pago and Kuchuk, telling traditional words of condolence. Pago, white as a shroud, was replying with the words of gratitude, adding necessarily: "Let such woe never enter your house!"
   Little by little the valley emptied, and the Vali departed. The unauts took the caldrons away and extinguished the funeral fires. But former life did not return to the Amysh aul. Though the smithy and the mill were working, and the carpet weavers and tailors labored, though women baked bread and men shepherded the livestock, the former life did not return to the aul. Never. When the last condoling man left, the father called Dabech.
   - Did you avenge them?
   - Yes - was the short answer.
   After several days Pago called for Dabech again.
   - Is it true, that you burned the Taubiy aul?
   - Yes - was the laconic answer.
   And for the third time Pago summoned his son:
   - They say, that you spared neither children, nor women. Is that true?
   And for the third time the answer was but one word:
   - Yes!
   - Leave the aul! - old prince ordered his only son left alive. -You will return, when I will die. I am not exiling you forever, because I do not want my kin to perish. Remember, that when you return, you must bring benevolence to the people, to expiate the great sin committed by you, praying for Arykshoo, for your brothers, and for me. Promise!
   - I promise.
   - Do you regret what you've done?
   - No! - the answer was firm.
   - Farewell! Remember about the family cross and the ring. I leave them to you.
   I leave everything to you. Go now.
   Dabech was standing still before the man dearest to him in the whole world. He was overwhelmed by his feelings. He remembered once more his reproach to his atalyk - why Hagoor did not teach him to cry?
   Leaving in the morning, Hagoor told him: "Exorcise the malice from your heart".
   - What are you waiting for?
   - Pago! - he did not say "ada", fearing that word. - Pago! May I ask you a favor?
   - Yes, you may. I will fulfill any desire of yours.
   - Embrace me before I go!
   The old prince got up, approached his son and embraced him heartily.
   - Forgive me - said Dabech quietly.
   - Forgive me, too, my son. Return to the aul as I said. Promise!
   - I will do everything to the best of my ability.
   Dabech left the saklia and went out into the rain that was mourning the death of his brothers and Arykshoo for the third day. His tears mixed with the raindrops.
   "Am I crying?" - The last of Pago's sons was astonished.
  
   The messenger of sorrow, arriving from the Amysh aul to the Strong Trench Fort dismounted from his horse from the right side.*
   - What has happened? - Dahawos rushed to him, guessing from that manner of his that something bad occurred.
   - Black sorrow envelops all of Kabarda - said the messenger and narrated the sad news to her. Delivering two letters to Dahawos and Kathy, he departed.
   Pago in his letter advised his granddaughter to stay where she is until further notice. "You will be sent for" - was said in the message. The other letter was from Bech and was addressed to Kathy:
   "The river of time changed its current in a single moment, carrying with the deadly waterfall all my loved ones: my six brothers and Arykshoo. Everybody in Kabarda is sure, that the Taubiyans were disposed against us by general Zass. There are many proofs to that. In that case I do not dare to engage and marry you, because the blood of my brothers is on your kinsman".
   Now the anguish never let the girls out from its tenacious grip. First Daha and Kathy wanted to go to the general to demand explanations. But some unbeknownst force forbade them. Neither they found any proof of his guilt.
   The dusk had a tint of a bloody wound that day. Then the moon knocked at the windows of the girls' rooms. The darkness polished the stars in the sky. Then fathomless night descended on the fortress. It passed in tears and suffering: "What will happen now? What the fate has in store for us?"
   In the morning Daha was ready to leave home, but Kathy stopped her:
   - You are already late for the funerals. The road home is difficult and dangerous. To the woes of Malichipkh you may add another one. Wait for the summons of your granddad. He always knows, what he says.
   So Daha stayed. They did not go to Zass house and did not receive anybody at theirs. True, the general did not invite them also.
   - See, - Daha suspected the worst - he is neither calling us, nor coming here! It means, that he is feeling himself guilty.
   - It means nothing - Kathy defended her father. - We look at the same tree with you, but we see different fruits. You do not know for certain, whether my papa is guilty, but you feel already reluctant to forgive him.
   - There is not a deed in this world, which cannot be forgiven. But it must be avenged first.
   After such conversations they turned away from each other. But it did not last. Their common grief threw them into an embrace. And, crying bitterly, the girls forgot their discourse. They only remembered the woe, suddenly fallen on their maiden shoulders.
   - Why Malichipkh did not save her sons? Why she did not foretell the misfortune, why did not she hide them? - Dahawos lamented.
   - She possibly guessed the future and told about it to dada, but you know, that it is impossible to persuade him.
   - Yes, Pago is obstinate. But if Malichipkh...
   They were conversing in this manner, when the general summoned his daughter. Alone. It was said just so: alone.
   - What may I reveal to him? - asked Kathy, raising her eyes, filled with tears.
   - We remember better those words, which we do not rehearse, - Daha answered. Tell him what your heart will prompt you.
   Zass received his daughter in his study. Here he was feeling more assured.
   - I know, what happened to the Amysh people. I think they got what they deserved long ago.
   Katherine was silent. A frail thread of hope was ready to snap.
   - Well, tell me, what are you two imagining there? - the baron asked at last.
   - Nothing. We are too lost in our grief to imagine things. But they informed us from aul, that this villainy was done by your order.
   - The truth is never naked. It is dressed in various clothes. I also have to dress my truth into the general's uniform.
   - Tell me frankly - is it true?
   Zass got up from the table and went limping about the room.
   "Lame Devil, really" - thought Kathy.
   Grigori Hristoforovich stopped sharply in front of his daughter.
   - I never gave any orders about Pago's sons. This is their usual feud. The warriors conflicted. The fight always means casualties.
   - And my brothers had to be the casualties this time?
   - Well... If you consider them to be your brothers, the answer is yes. Do you know, does your friend with the clever blue eyes know, that Dabech the bandit collected that very night a gang of highwaymen... God knows, how he managed that? He burned down the Taubiy aul together with the children, oldsters and women. During all this long war the Russians did not commit such a monstrosity! Entire aul! Merciless!
   - But Taubiyans did not spare the six brothers! Did they spare Arykshoo?
   - The order is already issued to arrest Dabech, - general answered. - And this order was not mine, but of high command. He will be caught and tried. That trial will be severe, believe me.
   - Try to catch him first - Kathy objected.
   - Are you defending that villain?
   - Yes, I am. And you'd better.
   - Me? - general was infuriated.
   - Yes, you. Because Dabech is the father of your future grandson.
   General was slowly sagging down to the floor. Kathy rushed to her father, calling servants for help. Grigori Hristoforovich was seated in the armchair. They wanted to give him a glass of water, but he demanded vodka. Drinking a big liquor-glass at a gulp, he stared at his daughter.
   - Tell me, that it was a bad joke.
   - No, papa! This is not a joke at all. The delegation should arrive to you these days, but now all our plans collapsed.
   - But where was your reason?
   - Love dos not listen to reason. And there is no doctor, able to heal that ailment.
   An oppressive pause followed. General did not know what to say. Kathy did not know what to do.
   "My soul is exhausted, - the girl thought. - It's all the same to me, what happens next. I just wish it to happen sooner".
   At last Zass collected his wits. He was good at that, because in the interminable combat expeditions he used to take swift and, he was sure, unmistakable decisions.
   - I consider your behavior reckless, - he said quietly at last. What I need a grandson of abrek for? What will you advise me to do now? Soon there will be rumors spreading in the fortress. They will reach Moscow and the capital. The doors of the high society parlors will be closed to you forever. That is the result of the magic of love. Can you imagine, how many eyes will be following us, hoping to enjoy gossiping thoroughly?
   - It will not be a gossip - Katherine answered. - That will be the truth. I am in a piquant position. So, nobody will be slandering me. They will just say the truth.
   The general, who never hesitated to break into the heat of the battle with his saber high, did not know what to do. At last Grigori Hristoforovich asked:
   - Where the hero of your romantic adventure is hiding now? He got the right to become commissioned officer from the sovereign, and he is a prince. You will marry him. And then we shall see, what happens.
   - The matter is, that Dabech rejected me after the tragic events in the Taubiy aul. They convinced him, that you were behind the plot to slaughter his uncle and brothers.
   - I will be able to persuade him on the contrary.
   - I do not think so. More - I am sure that you will never succeed.
   - Listen to me, - Zass said to his daughter - I know the people's nature and life much better, than you do. The mob will rush along your bloody trail, like the bloodhounds after the wounded animal. Those, who will release their leash, will halloo at you.
   - What can we do, papa? - Kathy raised imploring eyes at her father.
   The general did not reproach his daughter any more. He stroked her head with his heavy hand:
   - Everything will settle somehow, with God's help.
   - I did not expect the events go this way, - said Katherine with tears filling her eyes.
   - Every sorrow happens, when you do not expect it - the baron answered.
   - What should I tell Snowflake?
   - Whatever you choose. But I think, that it will be better for the Kabardin girl to leave the Fort. Give her money, present her with gifts, and I will order to escort her to the Amysh aul. But she must leave.
   - She will be fetched for.
   - That is good.
   - Wouldn't you like to see her?
   There was a pause. Zass really did not know what to do: either to speak to the Kabardin girlie, trying to explain everything to her, assuring her that he did not participate in the plot to kill her kinsmen, or to leave everything as it is.
   At last he arrived at the decision:
   - I do not want that meeting. Tomorrow morning I will lead the Cossacks into the raid against the Abadzekhs. That raid will take ten days. It is my desire, that she leaves the fortress before I return.
   "If you are afraid to meet her, you have something to feel guilty about" - thought Kathy. But she answered to her father:
   - Daha will go.
   The news spread in the Fort, that after the funerals Dabech went to Persia with his koop, replenishing it with several Sones * in Georgia. The Vali of Kabarda summoned him " to take liability for the atrocities in the Taubiy aul", but he did not comply. It was understandable. Unforgivable, probably, but understandable... It is always easy to understand, but difficult to explain.
   - What fair trial you are talking about? They treacherously killed all the men of our clan! If Dabech did not burn that aul down, I would do it! - Dahawos was resentful.
   ________________
   *Sone - the Georgian
   - Would you burn it together with the women and children, too?
   - Depending on the circumstances. Revenge does not distinguish good and evil.
   A flock of children was running past their house. Noisy, careless, merry.
   - Look, said Kathy - are they responsible for their fathers, who make war to the mountain auls?
   - Your Peter the Great, fighting with the strife in Russia, brought complete disorder. Nobody blames him. He is still the Great. Why do you accuse Bech? He punished the traitors, who violated the Adyghe traditions, he punished the murderers of his kinsmen. Why put his name to damnation?
   - Daha! Do you really think that I am blaming Dabech? No. But he trespassed the limits of permissible.
   - He brought to his father's yard seven corpses, seven dead bodies of Pago's most beloved people. There was nobody for Pago to compare with them before, and never will be. His father asked him, I am sure: `Did you avenge them?". And Dabech answered with a single word: "Yes!". Other words are inappropriate here. Dabech did what he did for that single word.
   - But did he think about me? Or about his son? Tell me now, please, tell me, what should I do? Soon my position will be evident to anyone. Where must I hide? To drown myself in Kuban river, perhaps? He went to seek his death in the raids. I know he did. Bech will be trying to stop every bullet with his body, I know that.
   - Men have their own will - Daha responded.
   - What we, the women, have?
   Dahawos either did not hear the question, or pretended not to.
   - Do not prevaricate, answer me! - Kathy ordered.
   - Every woman, I think, has her own way to deal with the emergency, known to her only. But that is often the way of salvation.
   - You are a young girl, barely eighteen, but you speak as if you lived two lives.
   - Nasty girl, as your papa usually says.
   Kathy could not control herself. Everything accumulated during the last days - grief, fright, insult and suffering - all that burst out:
   - How dare you! Do not deride my father! He is under fire now, fighting the enemies of our sovereign. Wounded, may be, or even...
   - Do not worry, - Daha said quietly - he would not be killed. - He will not...now. - Saying this, she left the room.
   Kathy fell on her bed face down and sobbed loudly. Then, with her face in tears, she fell asleep. In her dream, her father came to her. His face was pale.
   His lips trembling, he asked her:
   " Do you want to know why I am interceding? Out of my sheer love to you".
   But the dream continued.
   "Kathy, - said the general to her - seemingly, we spoilt you with too much sweets. That is why you do not distinguish other tastes".
   "Oh, no, father dear, - answered Kathy in her dream - there was enough of bitter in my life".
   "In your life? You are just beginning to live".
   " But I do distinguish between sweet and bitter already".
   "Then you must realize, that the medicine is never sweet. Always bitter".
   "The Kabardins treat many ailments with honey" - objected Kathy to her father.
   `That is why they are sick so often"
   "Not more often, than the other nations. May be less".
   "But plague and cholera took their heavy toll recently. Not much people left".
   "We shouldn't spread the disease from one aul to the other" - Kathy said.
   "What? What did you say? Are you blaming us, the military, for that?"
   "I incriminate nobody. I just repeat what I have heard from the aul oldsters. They cannot lie. They are not taught to".
   Her father stood up from the chair. It was still a dream. Making a hopeless gesture with his hand, he went out.
   ...She woke up in the evening with a heavy head and sad heart.
   "What was the reason of our quarrel with Snowflake ?" - flashed in her mind. She asked to bring her washing utensils, washed her face and went out on the porch. The evening coolness calmed her down as much, as it was possible.
   Calling Timofey Yemelyanovich, she asked him:
   - Do you know by chance, where Daha is?
   - She ran away, God knows where to - the old soldier was diverting his eyes.
   - Do not lie to me, Yemelyanovich, - asked him Kathy in a small voice.
   - Well, I never... She was crying, going thence.
   - And where Daha is now?
   - Seems to me, she is with colonel Mikhail Mikhailovich.
   "I hope nothing bad will happen" - Katherine thought, but knowing Polunin to be a highly decent person, rejected her suspicions.
   ...When Daha ran to the colonel's house, he just returned home from his duties, changed into light fatigue dress and ordered his valet to prepare a samovar. He enjoyed tea with bagels, gingerbread, jams, made by the local Cossack women and soldiers' wives by his own recipes. Today there were some additional delicacies on his table, sent to him by his cadet schoolmates, serving now in Daghestan - caviar, smoked beluga and sturgeon. The colonel was surprised by Daha's visit. But her unnerved appearance surprised him even more.
   - Daha dear, - colonel welcomed his guest - your visit is a pleasant surprise!
   - Mikhail Mikhailovich - the girl replied - I did not know where to run. And I did not find any place safer for me. You invited me to a cup of tea long ago.
   - God is the witness - samovar is waiting for you.
   Polunin chose to ask the princess no questions.
   "She will disclose her anxieties to me, if she chooses" - he decided. He opened the door, leading to his dining room, and the other - to the porch, so that their meeting would not instigate any gossip. After a second cup of tea, calming gradually down, Dahawos said to her host:
   - You are not very inquisitive, are you?
   The colonel laughed:
   - Why ask such a question? You, the Kabardins, consider, that your collocutor will announce what he considers necessary, if he desires. I consider that correct.
   - Are you informed what happened in the Amysh aul?
   - In the Taubiy aul, you wanted to say. Happened to the Amysh aulers, but in the Taubiy aul - he repeated.
   - Right you are.
   - Yes, I am informed. And I am shocked. No human may remain indifferent to that. I sympathize with Pago's grief. And I can understand Dabech, though...
   - Though you do not approve of him and do not forgive him.
   - People really are not able to forgive. They pretend to. The Almighty forgives. That is His domain.
   - I think that this is your long-lasting blunder. The Lord teaches us forgiveness, too.
   - Yes, of course. But could Dabech or you, Snowflake, forgive the murderers of your brothers?
   - People are signing their death sentence themselves. What for, explain to me, what for the taubiyans had to murder their guests? Didn't they know, that they would be severely punished for that - if not by Dabech, then by any Amysh auler?
   - That is a morbid secret to me, too - colonel sighed.
   Thunder was rumbling outside. Soon the raindrops tapped on the roof. Daha sat at the piano. The raindrops, beating against the windowpanes, repeated the sounds of music. Daha imagined the raindrops turning into the teardrops, beating on her heart. Stopping to play, the princess raised her imploring eyes:
   - May I stay at your house this night?
   The heart missed a beat in Polunin's breast, seemed to stop, and then dropped down his belly. He tried to catch it, instinctively pressing his hand to his breast. The girl he adored and was dreaming about, asked to stay a night with him. Herself. The thoughts galloped in his head. First he was not able to utter a word. But when his thoughts changed their pace from gallop to a trot, he said:
   - Without doubt, my modest dwelling is at your disposal. I will send for Fekla immediately. She cleans for me. She will spend this night in the house with you. I will spend this night in the duty officer's room or in Grigori Hristoforovich's study.
   - I do not want to disturb you, Mikhail Mikhailovich, but I do not see any other way.
   Then the colonel asked:
   - Answer me, if you please, what has happened between you and Kathy.
   - Do not ask me such questions, and I will not lie to you.
   This answer discharged the tension somehow, as if putting every thing in its proper place.
   - How beautiful you are! - said Polunin, looking at Kabardin princes with eyes kind and full of love.
   - You mean, that I am physically perfect?
   - Absolutely...
   - That beauty does not express anything and is granted for a short time.
   - Does that mean, that you do not consider it valuable and do not cherish it?
   - I do not. And I do not understand it.
   - Nevertheless, I will tell you, that hordes of men will be standing on their knees, worshipping your beauty - continued the host.
   - I will never see it. We have different customs in our aul - the princess laughed.-The highlanders stand on their knees only for one purpose.
   - What purpose is that? -the colonel was curious.
   - To drink from a spring.
   The rain subsided gradually, and the thunderstorm retreated. The neighboring hills, outlines of which were guessed from the window in the light of the moon, looked mysterious and secretive. The wolf's wail, heard in the night from far behind the fortress walls, was alarming somehow. Mikhail Mikhailovich was going to send for Fekla, when a woman's figure appeared in the doorframe. It was Kathy - all in raindrops and tears.
   - Daha - her voice trembled - we have so many woes, do we have to quarrel to make it worse? I looked for you everywhere, I cried my eyes out...
   Colonel hurried to meet his new guest.
   - Katherine Grigoryevna, your girlfriend has come to me, seeking shelter and protection.
   - Protection from whom? From me, perhaps?
   - You will pardon me, but the princess came here unnerved, and I did my best to calm her down.
   - Thank you for your kind hospitality. But now we with Dahawos will return home. Come! - she ordered to her friend in such a tone, which made any objection impossible. Daha rose obediently.
   - Thank you, my dear friend, for your tea and for... - she was seeking for right words of gratitude to tell the colonel and couldn't find them. - For your kindness! - completed she at last.
   - I will see you to your house, dear girls - Mikhail Mikhailovich said.
   - Do not worry, - said Kathy - Timofei Yemelyanovich is here. He is waiting in the vestibule.
   - That is my decision - the host was reluctant. - I will not let you go alone. Neither with Timofey Yemelyanovich, nor with a hundred Cossacks. I will see you to the entrance to your maiden room.
   These words of Polunin - "maiden room" - made all present laugh.
   - As you like. But promise to come in for an hour, then, - Kathy agreed.
   - I promise, - colonel agreed readily.
   Soon the girls were fussing in their house, serving the table. The quarrel was forgotten. They somehow managed to treat the colonel to many delicacies. People are right, when they say that you will always find something good for your guest in the house. Cold veal, roasted wild duck, wild cherry pie. And pickles with smoked ham. Red and white wine in two decanters. Wines were presented to Grigori Hristoforovich by the Bulgarian migrants. The ruby wine looked good in low blue goblets.
   - For love and consent! - Polunin toasted.
   Daha just wetted her lips in wine.
   - But this is just a grape juice, fermented a little! - Polunin tried to convince the young Kabardin to drink. But she shook her head: "It is not permitted to me".
   Kathy was not used to drink wine, either. In Kabarda the women never drink. Men are also reluctant to drink "chihir". So the colonel had to consume wonderful drink from both decanters, relating to the girls the taste of the wine. They parted late after midnight, exuberant with pleasantries and words of gratitude.
   The girls could not sleep late after that, upbraiding each other and embracing intermittently. They cried and laughed. But there were more tears, than laughter, for reasons for it were aplenty.
   On the other day, when Daha fried a whole mountain of fresh lakooms and brought them to Polunin to thank him for his yesterday behavior, Herr Kruge visited Kathy.
   - I have heard about your grief - German banker's son began - and I want to share that sorrow.
   - I prefer to grieve alone - the girl replied.
   - Do not be selfish. Tell me about your misfortune.
   - All right - said Kathy. And she narrated him everything as if confessing her sins.
   Kruge was not surprised at all. He did not interrupt Kathy with his questions, he did not express his sympathy, he did not sigh. By doing so he won Kathy's confidence and respect. Then there was a long silence. Each of them was deep in his own thoughts, but their thoughts seemed to be common.
   - I am not asking you how I may help you, - Kruge broke silence at last. - Because you do not need any help. There is nothing to reprobate you for. Where did you violate morals? I do not see. On the contrary, I adore you.
   - Your words are a tribute to politeness. - Kathy lowered her eyes.
   - My God! - Kruge was surprised. - The human feelings are like frail seedlings, like young trees. There, look, a young apple tree is striving to get some sun under your window. It is used to the local soil, to the local sun, even to the passers-by. But try to move that young apple tree into the other soil, under the other window, where the other sun shines and the people will be different, it will again grow up after a short sickness, glad to find everything new. After a while, it will forget about the young oak, which stretched to her his young branches there, in the old place. That is life.
   - Can't it happen, that the young apple tree will not become acclimatized in the new place and will pine away, perish?
   - It can... But it happens seldom. After the transplantation the apple tree should be watered and the soil fertilized...
   - That is your typical German way of thinking - Kathy frowned.
   - Not "your", but "our" - banker's son corrected.
   - All right, let it be "ours".
   Good and bad, kind and malicious, clever and stupid, a brave and a coward often have the same face. But this is only at the first glance. If you look at them attentively, if you try to touch them mentally with the tips of you fingers, feeling their cheeks, arms, shoulders - everything becomes clear. Your conscious will tell you who is who. You have to look attentively with the inside look. That was what happened to Kruge. Suddenly Kathy felt something good in that man, so despised and neglected by her until now. And she pitied him. She got up. Approached him. Kissed him. Kruge took her arm and brought it to his lips.
   - Don't, - asked Kathy. - My soul is tired of passions and disillusionment. Besides, I cannot love you. I still cannot... So, our conversation is a waste of time. My past cannot be ransomed even by the capital of your family bank.
   - What about the future? - the banker's son asked.
   - You can try. Someone will manage it, probably.
   - Good. You have given me a chance, and I will use it. Marry me. I thought it over long ago. Besides - here Kruge lowered his eyes - In my childhood I suffered from some malady, which resulted in sterility. I will never have children. In this situation I receive everything at once - the woman I love and her child, which becomes mine. The first German abrek will appear in Berlin.
   Only God knows, whether all the young banker said was true. Possibly not. Most probably. But Kathy accepted what he said at face value.
   - It changes a lot. - Kathy said quietly. - But I am still afraid, that my love to Dabech is a torch, without which my soul will be in darkness.
   It is a low of nature, that the cloud brings rain, and the sun illuminates the earth. Now a timid ray of golden sun entered the room and illuminated Katherine's face.
   - I do not promise anything to you now. - Kathy said.
   - I do not ask for an immediate reply.
   - Where you were hiding yourself? - Daha ran into the room.
   Embarrassed by Kruge's presence, she turned and wanted to exit, but Kathy stopped her:
   - Where are you going? We have no secrets from you. Herr Kruge asks me to marry him. What should I answer?
   - This marriage may be as felicitous for you, as love to Dabech was ruinous - Daha answered and went out of the room swiftly.
   - I have already experienced the wheels of fortune - general's daughter cried after her, but the princess was too far to hear those words.
   In the evening, when they were alone, Dahawos asked her friend:
   - Are you going to marry Kruge?
   Kathy did not answer.
   - Yes or no? - the Kabardin insisted.
   - But I do not love him at all.
   - I think it is a Russian proverb, that says - "to tolerate is to love"
   - Then tell me what shall I do? Where is Bech? Where is Pago?
   - Dada does not know of your pregnancy. If he knew, he would come for you personally.
   - Tell him, then. Write to him...
   - Have you forgotten, that he lost his brother and six sons lately?
   - Is it a reason to loose the only grandson, the heir and successor of his clan?
   Dahawos did not answer. What could she say? Repeat allegations about the guilt of Grigori Hristoforovich in that bloody drama? What for? Everything was said before. She remembered her morning talk with Polunin. Drinking fragrant tea with hot lakooms she brought him, Daha said:
   - I am going away, Mikhail Mikhailovich. Forever.
   That phrase dropped between them like a heavy stone. The colonel choked with lakoom, and tried to wash it down with the tea. It was hot and he burnt his tongue. He shoved everything aside and stared at the princess.
   - Where to? - he asked at last.
   - I do not know yet. To the aul, most probably. I have come to accompany Katherine. She does not need me any more. The time has come to go home. They are calling me back.
   - But... But how...
   - Are you speaking about yourself?
   The colonel nodded silently.
   - You will be transferred to Petersburg and promoted to the general's rank. The metropolitan maidens will be knitting their webs to catch you. And you will do just that! You sure will!
   - If you were at least eighteen years old! If...
   - Our law permits to marry a girl at fourteen. Pago will fix us with a saklia, you will become a chieftain of an abrek gang. How do you like such a future?
   - I like it. But thou forget, that I swore an oath of loyalty to my sovereign, and that would be high treason.
   He said "thou". For the first time. And for that small word he became closer and dearer.
   - I am joking, Mikhail Mikhailovich, - the princess said. We have not a chance. You are too dear to me to make you unhappy. Even if you bring me to Petersburg with you, will the high society, your family and your colleagues accept me. Remember, that many of their comrades died from the bullets, fired by my compatriots. We have not a single chance. If you want, you may have me now. Only once, to remember all your life.
   - No! - Polunin was scared by this proposal. - I know your mountain laws. It would be perishable for you. Thou... You have your pride... Especial, Kabardin...
   - There can't be two kinds of pride, - Daha answered to colonel - one for yourself and the other for the other people or the other nation.
   - What? - he did not understand her.
   - I say, that there is no smaller pride and bigger pride. It cannot be.
   - What can be there, then?
   - One and only pride.
   - Which one?
   - It depends on a human in question. It is better, if his pride is great. Tremendously great.
   - Then it may overgrow the pride and transform into inflated self-esteem.
   - True - Daha consented. - I threw my pride under your feet and I do not regret.
   Mikhail Mikhailovich was kissing Daha's hands and crying. He did not hide his tears. Departing, Daha pressed herself to the Polunin's strong body and kissed him with passion she did not suspect in herself.
   She did not dare to tell about this to Kathy. She felt frightened, when she got home:
   "What would I do, if he were not such a gentleman? What would happen then? Look, how Kathy is suffering now! Who would guarantee that my fate would be easier?
   - Let us sing - Kathy proposed suddenly. It was so unexpected, that Daha did not answer at once.
   - Well, shall we?
   - But of course, Kathy dear - princess fussed.
   The guitar was brought. They sang Russian and Gypsy romance songs and sings they composed themselves.
   Strong Fort Officers would pay a high price to be present at this concert. But it was organized by the authors and was devoted to the authors' feelings. When the last chord died away, Kathy said:
   - I do not consider love to be a physiological process. On the contrary, I confer the first place in the relations between the man and the woman to the exalted emotions.
   - Why do you deprive physiological feelings of their high spiritual force? - Daha was surprised.
   - Oh, you do not say so! Those feelings are but instincts!
   - You want to say, that you did what you did just in a ...
   She wanted to mention the Kathy's position, but was reluctant to insult her.
   Her friend understood:
   - No! before that storm of emotions there were three long years of painful love. From my side that moment you wanted to mention was a moment of despair and... hope. But you, why did you ran to Polunin? Is my bitter experience not enough for you?
   Daha did not answer, but on the other day she caught herself at starting every time the entrance door opened. Each time she was disappointed: Nastia the Cossack brought fresh milk, then Kruge looked in for a minute, bringing some new presents, then they were summoned for the breakfast and lunch to the general's house. But at last the young Kabardin was gratified for her patience: Timofey Yemelyanovich entered her room at the end of the day and announced:
   - Colonel Polunin Mikhail Mikhailovich.
   He brought to the girls a small basket of the wild raspberry. The three of them were sitting at the table, eating the berries out of the basket and chatting. First the princess was afraid to look directly at the colonel. She had scruples about their yesterday encounter. But his nonchalance encouraged her. She looked at him and met with his warm and understanding stare. She did not lower her eyes any more.
   - What had happened to you two yesterday? - Kathy inquired. Wise for her years, she noticed something unusual in relations between her girlfriend and the famous warrior of the Kuban Line, colonel Polunin.
   - I am proposing Dahawos to marry me. She has to grow up for that just a little. But she doesn't want to wait.
   - Wrong! That is me who proposes Mikhail Mikhailovich to marry me and come to live in our aul. But he declines.
   - Never put anything you have to do today for tomorrow. That was our mistake with Dabech.
   Colonel grew serious, even strict. It was because of the news he came to announce and which could leave neither him, Kathy and Daha, nor the entire Kuban Line indifferent.
   - The Emperor calls Grigori Hristoforovich back from the theatre of military operations and grants him a year's leave. The transfer of duties should be completed in ten days. Major general Bezobrazov, who is already on his way here, replaces Lieutenant-general Zass.
   - Well, that's it! - said Kathy with the strangled voice of a doomed - Now I have no choice. I have to become the banker's wife.
   - What? - Polunin did not get her.
   Daha pressed her finger to her lips significantly, asking him to be silent.
   - I also may say `That's that!". They will come for me these days. And we will leave our Arcadia -on- Kuban - said the princess.
   In the vestibule Daha pressed herself to Polunin and kissed him again and again.
   - Do not dare to resist - whispered she - I know, that we are parting forever. Remember me there, amidst the noisy ball, with the clinking of Champagne glasses, sounds of mazurka and rustling of silk skirts of the high-society prank girls.
   - I swear, that I will find you anywhere - colonel replied - I swear!
   - An oath is just a promise of happiness. Between the promise and the happiness people flounder in the waves of time, expectations and hopes- said the princess, who became fifteen years older during the last year.
   When Daha returned to the parlor, Kathy asked her:
   - What you were doing there?
   - Kissing - answered the young Kabardin.
   Her friend looked at her:
   - Where did you learn to kiss?
   - From Eve.
   - Eve not only kissed with Adam.
   - No, we kissed only. That will be enough for the rest of my life to remember.
   Kathy came to her and stroked her head.
   - The best in love is its beginning.
   - Why is it so painful, then? Why am I unhappy?
   - Because you still believe in fairy-tales.
   The dawn brought forth a gray overcast day. The girls' mood when they woke up was also gray and joyless.
   - What is the guilt of losers? - Kathy asked her friend at the morning tea.
   - They are blamed for being losers - Dahawos replied at once.
   She remembered, that all the night she was dreaming about a long, interminable road. But she never saw that dream to its end, because she woke up again and again. By the morning the road led her to the mountains. Not those mountains, which she knew and considered her native, but some others. With unknown flowers and bushes, unknown fruits and birds. She heard a strange, alien melody. Then the road continued and led her to the very high ladder. She was ascending that ladder easily, as if flying up. Green bushes, strewn with the bright flowers were on her both sides.
   Daha wanted to tell Kathy about that interrupted dream of hers, but Timofey Yemelyanovich announced.
   - Guests to see princess Dahawos.
   Amysh uzden Hamish brought two letters with him: one for Kathy, the other for Dahawos. Katherine, pale and with trembling hands, handed her letter to Daha:
   - Read it. If this is a message of grief - do not say anything.
   Daha, reading the latter, became pale. She stood up and threw the letter into the fireplace. There was only one word in it: `Farewell".
   In the other letter, addressed to Dahawos, Pago said, that she must follow Hamish's instructions.
   - What those instructions would be? - Daha asked the messenger.
   - Beyond Armavir aul people are waiting for you to escort you to your destination. Take only those things of necessity to the young woman on a long road. The other belongings, which are of value to you, you can send to Amysh aul with Chercesogays.
   - May I take Bzhe with me?
   - Yes, you may - was the answer. Then the messenger got up: - I will fetch you the next morning. Saying that, Hamish vanished as quietly, as he appeared.
   Needless to say that the night, which followed, was not intended for sleep. Kathy and Daha talked incessantly, jumping from one subject to another, interrupting each other. The night was still, only quiet sounds of flowing water were heard from Kuban.
   -Your soul resembles the flower bulb, just flourished or intending to - said the young German in Kabardin language to her friend.
   - No! - it is you who resemble the flower bulb - but a mountain flower, not a garden rose.
   Then they sworn that they will seek and find each other whatever happens.
   - My son, who he will be to you in kinship? - Katherine asked.
   - A nephew, no, and not a brother - he will be my cousin!
   More promises, and still more...
   Zoohra woke up the dawn, when the girls fell asleep. Kathy saw Malichipkh in black dress. A black shawl covered her entire face. Only her eyes were visible.
   "Kateh, - said the old woman - I waited for you to become my daughter-in law, but I part with a widow".
   "But Dabech is alive!" -cried Kathy in her dream.
   "That is a different Dabech. Not the one you knew. His grief broke him, made him cruel. He is bloodthirsty and he is seeking his death. Throw him away from your heart".
   "How can I?"
   "You must - in order to save Pago's grandson from the revenge. He will not survive in Kabarda, until at least one taybiyan is alive. Until their atalyks are alive. Until their most distant relative is alive, he will be sought for revenge. Save our grandson, do not let our ancient and glorious kin perish. Let him return to the mountains, when he will be a mature man. Able to announce and defend his rights.
   Then all the Amysh aulers, wherever they are, will gather around him and Wazermes".
   "With the aim of vengeance?"
   "No! To live, propagating light and joy".
   "Nana! Take off your black shawl, let me have the last look at you".
   "To remember?"
   "Yes, to remember you".
   Malichipkh took the shawl silently.
   "But you are completely gray-haired! Completely..."
   "Am I still alive? There are six bullets in my heart - for each of my sons. And a saber wound for Arykshoo. How can a human live with that?"
   Then she brought to Kathy all her children, one by one - Nasren, Badyn,, Kaitsuk, Panuko, Hamish. They were pale and silent, looking at her with imploring eyes.
   "What they want to tell me?" -Kathy asked Malichipkh.
   "They are bidding farewell to you".
   When Malichipkh brought Jelihstan to her, he seemed not so pale as the others.
   "Be happy - said her visionary brother-in law. - Be happy always".
   `Where is Arykshoo, -she wanted to inquire, but instantly saw him standing at her side.
   "Live, said Pago's brother, putting his hand on her head.
   "Oh, how cold it is" - thought Kathy a moment before she woke up.
   In the morning the first person she saw was Dahawos, sitting on her bed, with her eyes wide awake.
   - White mountain goat came to me in my dream - said the princess thoughtfully.
   - What did she want this time?
   "Sometime the ancient tombs will be plowed to make fields; gardens, pines and poplar trees will be cut for wood. The time will turn the palaces into ruins and the fortress walls and bridges will molder" -she said.
   - What did you ask her?
   "What are our hopes for immortality, then?'
   - And...
   - She vanished. But her voice remained. That voice told me: " You will go to a far country. A very far country. You will learn what the Gods know only. But it will not make you godlike, since the Gods are immortal, while the path of your life is precipitous and short.
   - Did she say: "Short path?"
   - That's her exact words.
   During the morning tea the girls did not touch food. They were sitting in silence, staring at the sweets on the table. When the arrival of Hamish was announced, they embraced each other, sobbing loudly.
   Kathy wanted to see Daha as far as Armavir aul, but Daha implored her not to:
   - I will not bear another parting.
   Kathy reluctantly agreed. Bzhe was brought to the porch.
   - What shall I tell Grigori Hristoforovich? - cried Zass daughter to Daha.
   - God forgive him!
   Hamish followed Daha with the spare horse, loaded with two small packs of Dahawos' belongings.
   "That is all. - Kathy said to herself. - I do not believe in magic, and I had enough of disillusionment in my life. Papa repeats over and over, that the experience is the best teacher. Seems, that I am paying a very high price for my education".
   Dahawos was riding fast on her white Bzhe from the Strong Trench Fort. Bzhe was as white, as snow, but she knew, that the black horses are taking her into the gloom of times. Daha's roads and paths will be lost for many months in the impassable mountains of Himalayas, in the mysterious and enigmatic Bhutan, where Pago sent her on Lu Tin's proposition. There, far even from Thimphu,* among the summits, divided by tempestuous streams, she will cognize from the lamas the mysteries of existence and consciousness. She will never tell to anybody about her life near the Buddhist monasteries. Through the gloom of time and infinity of distances she will communicate only with Malichipkh, to inquire or to narrate her about wonders, happening to her.
   Kathy waited Grigori Hristoforovich return from the raid and presented to him her future husband. The general welcomed the news: `God bless you" - e said and retreated to his study.
   The wedding was fixed on the next day. In the evening, when they were alone, the general said to his daughter:
   - A man is never as unhappy, as it seems to him, and never as happy, as he wants to be. This choice is the best you could do during that short, but turbulent life of yours.
   - Are you upbraiding me for something, when you say "turbulent", papa?
   - God forbid!
   - I asked God for a proud deer, but he sent me a rabbit.
   - May be at that time he had only a rabbit at his disposal.
   The wedding ceremony took place in the garrison chapel.
   - Katherine will adopt Catholicism in Berlin. She will get a new name. There the procedure will be exactly according our traditions. In the meanwhile... general said.
   - When you say "our" - do you mean "German'? - Kathy asked.
   - Yes. - Baron was short. -By the way, - he addressed to his son-in law - will my grandchildren inherit the title of "baron", and will your wife be a baroness?
   Herr Kruge nodded silently. Only colonel Polunin was invited to the dinner. And though the cuisine was delicious, it did not elevate the mood of those present. Mikhail Mikhailovich knew, that he was loosing Daha forever. he was ready to retire from service, ride to catch Dahawos and bed to be permitted to live with her in the Amysh aul. The general, hearing that was infuriated:
   - My dear Sir, you are one step from the rank of the general; the papers for your promotion are all ready and are directed to the Emperor. Are you going to throw to the winds all you have achieved? Just for the sake of some snotty girl? Are you crazy? I think that too much attention is paid here to all these amorous affairs, love intrigues and piquant positions...
   - What piquant position? - colonel did not understand Grigori Hristoforovich. But the general, realizing that he nearly spilled up the beans, coughed theatrically and got red in the face. He announced angrily that he declines Polunin's retirement and went out.
   Soon after that Polunin got up to go.
   - The newlyweds do not need guests.
   They let him go without usual objections.
   "It has to happen sometime - Kathy thought. - And Ibn Sina was wrong when he said, that the soul is independent in thought from the bodily ties. It is not. Presently I will be paying with my body for the freedom of my thought in the past."
   Kruge guessed that his beloved is overwhelmed with hesitations.
   - You have to have some rest, and to calm down - he said. - I understand it perfectly... I will not be offended, if we'll spend this night separately.
   - For how long this will last?
   Kruge was silent. What could he say?
   - Will it last long? - the newly made banker wife inquired.
   - As long as you wish! - answered Kruge firmly.
   - Then we go to my bedroom immediately. I left the orders to prepare everything for our first night properly. Nothing will ever remind about the past days. But I fear, that the long - awaited dessert will not be to your taste.
   But Kathy's doubts were all wrong. The room, where she recently was sharing her maiden dreams with Daha, was a bedroom of a married matron now. Blue linen of bed-sheets, pillowcases, bed-covers, the candles in silver chandeliers, and fragrance of perfumes... Kathy threw articles of her dress around negligently and stood naked in front of her husband, as she stood once on the Kuban riverbank before Dabech. Was she worse than that night? Doubtful. Even if her belly did betray her pregnancy, it was in a smallest degree. But her body became ripe, the bosoms with the full nipples were ready to burst. They were ready for love and waited for that love too long. Kathy let her hair fall free to her shoulders. her lips were trembling, when she said:
   - What are you waiting for, my dear?
   The wedding night fell on their bed. Kathy gave herself to Kruge again and again. It was not passion, but fierceness. She imagined Dabech making love to her. And that made the fierceness turn to passion on the blue bed-sheets, prepared for the Amysh aul, but spread here in the Strong Trench Fort. By the dawn Kruge, freaked out by that adventure, tired and empty as a regimental drum, fell to sleep on his wife's bosom, sniffing as a child. Kathy did not move, unwilling to wake him up. In the morning the banker's son remembered the words of Epirus, repeated by Napoleon:
   "One more victory like this - and I will lose my army".
   - If you mean me, my dear friend, - Kathy answered, - you may rest assured about the army. I will always find reserve battalions and even regiments.
   Kruge wanted to answer, but Kathy interrupted him:
   - But I do not promise any more battles like the last one.
   Baron Zass was fussing all day, preparing his daughter and his son-in law for their journey.
   - We will send the gross luggage train separately, - he said - so that it will not impede your movement. Take the bare necessities with you.
   That "bare necessities" took three carts. General did not interfere anymore: -"Let them do as they wish."
   The last raid reports were ready to be sent to the metropolis. Zass stroke out his own name in the dispatches, which nominated him to be awarded the Order of Saint Anne and replaced it with Kruge's. Learning that, his son-in law objected furiously, insisting, that he does not be a laughingstock, but the chief of the right flank of the Caucasian line said sternly:
   - It's the right thing to do! - and closed the subject.
   Fort's entire population came to see Kathy off. She was a pet of all officers and men.
   - Go with God! - baron hurried the newlyweds.
   "That is all, for sure, now", - Kathy thought.
   "Have I really found my luck here, in this wild and severe land, to take it with me to Faterland?" - Kruge reflected.
   Only God knew at that moment, that he is absolutely right. Many years later, when the world in Russia will divide on Whites and Reds, Russian general Kruge, the son of Berlin banker and general Zass' daughter, will appear in the mountains of Caucasus, looking for the place where Amysh aul stood. he will inquire about its dwellers, but will not find any.
   - Why are you interested in that aul? - retired colonel Odnolyubov will ask Kruge in the Kislovodsk.
   - I am looking for my kinsmen - lieutenant general, resembling Circassians more then the Germans will answer.
   The colonel will be surprised:
   - Did the Germans live in that aul?
   - My mother was a native of these places by birth. And my cousin, princess Dahawos, and prince Dabech...
   Colonel asked for a meeting with the general on the other day. They met at the spa spring.
   - You called the princess Dahawos. Her close friends called he Snowflake. I met this beauty when I was a young lieutenant. - He handed to the general a lady's glove of blue and dark-violet silk. - This glove belonged to the princess and was presented to me in most unusual circumstances. Now it is yours. I am an old man and do not want this relic to fall into the hands of strangers. It does not mean anything to them. - And he told to his new acquaintance a story of that glove, which would make a thrilling novel.
   But all this will happen after so many years. Now Kathy with her husband travels to Moscow by the state road. Dusty miles. And the horses from the past.
  
  
   The dead wind blew along the streets of Amysh aul after the death of Pago's sons and Arykshoo. Even the light reed roofs were pressing down with the stone weight. The old prince did not leave his saklia, ate little, drinking tea instead. Malichipkh was turning one thought in her head, reproaching herself:
   "Why did not I dissuade Pago to set all our sons on that road?'
   Her husband came to her:
   - I did not listen to you. -His voice trembled.
   Malichipkh found his head with her hands, pressed it to her face and stroked it, as if he was a child.
   - Do not torment yourself, do not suffer. We can do nothing now. We will meet with them soon.
   - I wish that day would come sooner. - There was hope in the prince's voice.
   Pago remembered, how Arykshoo told Lu Tin on the eve of the mournful day:
   "If the death is only a death, what will happen to the song about Amysh aul, with my horse and my gourda, and with my friends after me?"
   His horse was now in the herd, his gourda was hanging on the wall and his friends gathered every evening to sing songs about the fallen heroes.
   Malichipkh remembered the mound, where her boys were buried, and thought: "In which secret place of it my grief will sleep?" She ordered to cut six of the seven pear trees, which were growing at the clan's saklia. She touched the dead stumps, caressing them:
   - This is Badyn... And this is Kaitsuk... Nasren... Panuko... Hamisha... Jelihstan.
   Then she ordered to the serfs to make a giant fire from the cut pear trees. She stared into flame with unblinking eyes and suddenly understood, that she went blind.
   - I do not see anything - said Malichipkh quietly. - But I do not want to see any more.
   Now the old prince was sitting beside his wife, shaking his head to and fro. He thought, that he is singing a funeral song, but only moans were heard from his breast.
   - The world has dressed in black, - his wife said.
   - Yes - Pago thought, that he had answered her, continuing to moan.
   - The highlander women are accustomed to wait for their men. -Malichipkh said suddenly. - They look with hope to the trail from the gorge. For whom must I wait now?
   - You still have Dabech - the old prince answered.
   - Haven't you?
   - He will return home after my death.
   - What makes you think that I will outlive you?
   -How do I know? But it will be so. It must be so.
   They sat in silence for a long time. As if a reed pipe played its tune and turned in her song for the night. But the mute conversation continued between them:
   "The last minute of life is prescribed to anyone" - she sent him her thought.
   "By whom?"
   "By the mysterious power of the Heaven".
   Suddenly Pago asked aloud:
   - Where Dahawos is now?
   Malichipkh passed the back of her palm over her dead eyes:
   - Far away. Her way is not completed yet.
   - Has she a long way to go?
   - She is close to her destination.
   Then she asked Pago:
   - Why did you send her from the aul, too?
   - What the girl will do here? To dress into mourning clothes and became a wailer? Lu Tin proposed to send her to the far mountain country to seek wisdom.
   - Are our mountains not enough?
   - Their mountains are different. Each of them is higher, then Oshkhamaho. There are wise shogens, who are called lamas. They will teach her to forget grief.
   -I s not the wisdom of Caucasus enough for her?
   - I thought: "Let their wisdom replenish ours. There is never too much wisdom".
   -I talked to Daha - the blind said.
   "Why the mountains attract people so much?" - she asked.
   "There is no answer to that question" - I answered.
   "I also cannot say why - Daha said - But I cannot live without these summits: snowy, rocky, green. I never feel happy without them. In the mountains I feel the altitude by my heart and my soul. Here the summits are so great! I think, that Gods are dwelling on them'.
   - What else did she say?
   - Nothing. Vanished. Since that time I cannot find her.
   But Malichipkh managed to find a tiny grain of sand, Dahawos, in the vast depths of the Space. Seven Star Brothers helped her. They escorted the blind to the paths of Bhutan. There, near one of the lamas' datsans - monasteries, her granddaughter was living.
   Coming into her maiden dream, the granny asked her: "Why don't you send us any news about yourself? Pago is asking too, what happened to you?"
   "I tried to get to you, nana, but here the sky is so high, that I am afraid to fly".
   "Don't you dare to! -Malichipkh ordered.
   "Even the Sky Path, along which the Kabardins drive their herds in the vicinity of the Moon, did not bring me closer to you." - Dahawos lamented.
   "Only Seven Star brothers will help you".
   "I will remember that. Here, at the datsan, I will spend this winter and the coming spring. Then I will return home".
   "We will be waiting for you".
   Dahawos vanished again. Now for a long time. After that Malichipkh ordered to lead her to her husband.
   - Daha will return after one winter and one spring.
   The old prince nodded his understanding.
   - Aren't you glad?
   - I do not know... Am I able to be glad for anything?
   - These days the wailers from Balkaria will arrive. Your friend Chegembay sends them.
   - What for?
   - He sent us a message, saying that it is a duty of highlander women - to mourn the fallen heroes.
   - Well, - Pago said - accept them. Let them perform their sad mission. if they have tears left. Have not Malkar auls their own woes to wail about?
   Malichipkh was sitting and staring with unblinking eyes at her husband. He also looked at her, pitying her, most probably, for the first time in his life.
   - In this world, - said the old prince - parents parted with their children many times before us. Brothers parted, too. I knew, that it is a painful thing, but I could never suppose, that the pain will ooze out of the unhealed wound with such excruciating torture.
   Then his thoughts flew far away, and he talked about another subject. Or so he thought.
   - The retribution of evil is also evil.
   The blind woman kept silence, understanding, that her husband is speaking about Dabech. Only a cricket broke the silence in the far corner of the room. A mouse rustled in the reed roof.
   - Even the rock would disintegrate of my torment - Pago lamented.
   - It is useless to battle your fortune - answered him Malichipkh. She called her unauts and told them to take her to her room.
   Every evening uzdens and the oldsters of the aul gathered in the koonak parlor of the old prince, contemplating the ways to return life to the aul, submerged into the endless night of sadness. Their reflections helped them to fight their insomnia. Only once Pago talked about taubiyans:
   - Our knowledge is so scarce. Our ignorance is so great. We often believe. And we are often mistaken.
   They were saying, that the sound of the horses' hooves in the gorge seem alarming. They said, that when the leader is hesitating, his army is doomed to loose. The old prince took these words as addressed to him. He did not take offence, they did not distress him.
   - Consider me a sick person. Elect another leader for yourself.
   - No! - Jamada was firm. - You are our leader. We have as many leaders in Kabarda, as we have villages. You propose to name another leader in Amysh aul beside yourself. That is nonsense. We do not elect the aul's lord with the prince alive. Dabech is also alive, thank God.
   - Name a deputy then.
   They named Uvajoko.
   - Let it be so - Pago agreed.
   They talked of Arykshoo often, remembering his valor, his raids to Transkuban territories, to the shores of Hazas or to Cossack villages. He divided the loot honestly, was generous to the others, leaving smaller part for himself. They remembered his words: "Reward for the deed performed is the urge to do better next time".
   Old prince was asked to share his thoughts with them.
  -- I wish that neither people nor birds would lock their nests for the night - he taught. - Courage makes the strikes of fate measly. The tombstone is not hard, but it is stronger, than the human life.
   Sometimes the old prince narrated some episodes of his glorious times and bemoaned, that he is looking at life, like a bird looks at a butterfly from its cage. On the last day of his life he asked to take him out of his saklia. Sitting in the garden, he watched the bees collecting honey, looked at the leaves stroked by the wind. Adiyuh came and sat at his legs.
   - I know, - said Pago - that the words of my retirement from life are written on the clouds already.
   Adiyuh looked at the sky.
   - No need to look up to see that. Look into my eyes. They faded of time and grief.
   The day, as if understanding the old prince, withered, and pined away. It became cold and dump. Pago was led inside. There was fire in the fireplace, promising comfort. By the noon the sun melted the clouds.
   - Call the shogen - Pago ordered.
   When the shogen appeared, the old prince said:
   - The sun, which is the Lord of all travelers of the Earth, has completed my hard way. The eyes of my day are ready to close.
   True, the last colors of the day were dissolving in the sky, yielding to darkness.
   - Uvajoko, are you still here? - asked the moribund.
   - Yes, ziuskhan.
   - Tell our aulers that Shapsughs, living at the seashore, have a proverb they took from some sage: "Those who sale not knowing their destination, never have the right wind". That is also true for us, living in the mountains.
   - Malichipkh, - he called.
   - Yes, my lord - the blind answered as she did during the first years of their wedlock.
   - Tell Lu Tin: My caravan was robbed.
   The night hanged the stars - so large and high in the sky.
   Every homestead of the aul brought to Pago's tomb mound their gifts. They were buried with him. People say, that when the aul perished and its dwellers turned to dust and stones, that rich tomb was robbed by evil men. Nobody knows that for certain. Maybe Pago still sleeps under those heavy gifts he does not need.
   Do we need them? Let the sad grass on the burial mound answer that question.
  
   Bech was returning home in the spring. He received the sad news from Amysh aul by the secret post of his own. he was met by the strangers - rains, he drank water from the pearly springs. First he traveled on the plains. but this was quite different from the plains of Persia, all scorched and covered by stones and sand. Here green wings of nature pleased his eyes. On the Terek banks the poppy petals fell, the flowering acacia was sending the fish to spawning.
   "Spring grass grows carefree, heeding neither the summer heat, nor the autumn winds which are ahead".
   The caravan of mules and geldings, loaded by countless riches his coop robbed in this raid was moving slowly, but Dabech did not dare to leave it to the cares of the Turkmen warriors and Amysh aulers. The price of that caravan was too great. Their slow progress gave him opportunity to enjoy the nature for the first time in his life. He began to notice, that the morning fields are enveloped by the fog, and the sun with its trembling ray slithers on the mulberry orchards of Tokhtamysh. He enjoyed the awakening meadow, the fine curls of violets, and the rains - water carriers. When Dabech was close to, the native mountains, he noticed, that though the spring already knocked on the doors of saklias, the gray whiskers of winter are still visible. It was raining in his gorge. The raindrops were trickling from one branch to the lower. Soon the rain stopped and the day became brighter. The flowers were breaking out from the buds on the trees.
   "Everything lives - thought Bech. - Everything gets fussy. But there is no Arykshoo and my brothers in this world any more.
   Many times he returned in his thoughts to the act of revenge. Sometimes he scolded himself for this cruelty to taubiyans. But sometimes only. Dabech was sure, that his revenge to the traitors now would be the same.
   His native aul met him with silence. Only curious boys, standing behind the wattles, stared at the caravan from under their shaggy hats.
   "The cold did not go away from our streets in spite of the spring" - the prince thought, slowly moving along the aul. He dismounted at his native saklia. Ordering his caravan men to make a camp, he took his horse by the braids and walked to the burial mound, where his brothers, Arykshoo, and lately his father Pago were resting in peace. The aul dwellers were coming out of their homes to greet their new lord. He answered their words, pressing his right hand to his heart, and moved further. The women stayed at the wattles, the men followed the prince at a distance, since they knew, where he was going. Not far from the mound Bech turned to his aulers and gestured them to stop. He found the tomb of his father easily - the earth was still bare, without grass.
   - Did you forgive me? - asked Dabech.
   "I wish the God forgives you" - hr heard.
   The prince knew, that this is mysticism, that Pago cant speak, even if he hears him, but could not abstain from one question more:
   - How we must live further?
   " By the laws of the highlanders, by the traditions of Adyghes, observing the Christian laws and respecting the Moslem faith".
   - Yes, father. I will try, - he answered and turned to the aul. his hors, as if feeling the mood of his master, prodded his shoulder with his muzzle.
   "I must inspect the horses of Arykshoo and my brothers in their herds" - thought Bech.
   Now he permitted the aulers to surround him and answered their questions.
   Everyone wanted to know, how they would live further.
   - We will plow and sow - said the new lord of the aul. The women will weave and make clothes, make carpets... The men will mill the grain, forge the sickles, go to the raids. Let the past leave us only its wrinkles.
   With these words his tormented thoughts were dying, but the anguish was beating in his heart.
   - Our meeting - he said - is a greatest joy for me. May be it is sad, but it's a joy.
   It was snowing in his soul in spite of the spring, which raged around. The soul snowflakes were falling around and they did not melt.
   " I will be buried in the snowdrift" - the prince thought and asked:
   - Accompany me to the church.
   Stepping over the aul temple's threshold, Dabech handed the leather pouch with the golden coins to the shogen:
   - I do not want the sorrow follow me all the time, I do not want the life of the aulers to be on the verge of precipice. pray for us.
   - That is my job, - shogen answered.
   Exiting the church, he asked to lad him to the mosque.
   - The God is one - he said to the molla, handing him another leather pouch with the golden coins, same as the first one.
   - Pray for Arykshoo and my brothers, so that their souls would not be lost in the skies.
   - I do that long ago without your gold.
   - This gift is a gift to the mosque, not the sadaka* for the perished.
   Only after that Bech went to his mother. he was walking the narrow streets of the aul, thinking: "When you leave your Motherland, you will see in your dreams a spring coming from the heart of the earth, from which you drink with parched lips, without quenching your thirst".
   - Dabech arrived - Adiyuh said to her mother.
   Malichipkh was silent.
   - Nana, don't you hear me?
   - Why not? I am blind, not deaf. I know, that he has returned. He brought much gold and precious stones, but he did not become happier for this.
   - Are you not happy he returned?
   - How can I be unhappy?
   - But I do not see...
   - It is difficult to see the big joy. The small one is evident to everybody. I wish you could look into my soul.
   Bech stepped over the threshold of his mother's room with a trembling heart.
   - She is completely blind - his sister managed to whisper, embracing him.
   Malichipkh came out of her bedroom and came to him with a sure step.
   - Do not whisper sad words to him - said she to her daughter strictly. Only my eyes are blind. But my heart is as sharp-eyed as ever.
   She embraced her son, inhaling the smell of valor and courage, lost for her long ago. Then they sat on a wide sofa, and mother stroked her son's head.
   - You have grown completely gray-haired.
   - Dabech looked at his sister, surprised, but Adiyuh pressed a finger to her lips.
   - Completely gray-haired - Malichipkh repeated.
   - How did you manage to see that? -the prince asked.
   - Tkha shows me what I must see.
   Separating herself from her son, she said:
  -- Never lave this aul for a long time any more. You are a lord on your native land. You are the particle of that land. It will give you strength. Who you will be in the strange land? A slave, a murderer, a lover of the khan's wife?
   - I will not disobey you - answered Dabech quietly.
   - I feel, that you want to ask me a question. What is it?
   - Yes, right you are.
   - Do you want to ask me about Kateh?
   - Yes, about Kateh.
   - You lost her in the gust of your furious revenge. Her and your son.
   - Where is she?
   - Seek neither her, nor your son. I will tell her in one of her dreams, that you are alive and loving her still.
   - Do that. - Dabech asked.
   In the yard of his home the prince ordered to his coop to dismount horses and to unload the mules. The meat was already boiling in the caldrons, and the lambs were roasting on the coals. The Amysh aul dwellers were looking with astonishment at the Turkmen warriors, accompanying their prince. Their closes seemed strange. resembling the clothes of Lu Ting's men. Resembling, but different.
   Dabech ordered his people to make a camp. He mounted his shagdi. Two his bodyguards were ready to follow him, but he stopped them:
   - I want to be alone.
   His horse brought him to the shore of the mountain river. He dismounted at the very brink of the precipice, listening to the river roaring in the ravine below. The river was irritated, beating against the giant rocks, it was moaning and cursing.
   "Same as me, - thought Pago's son. And then he thought: " It would be good to be born once again as that pine on the mountain. Or as a bird. or, may be, as a flower on the meadow? No! Not as a flower. The life of a flower is short, and I have so much to accomplish in this life. Everyone has his own life. The mountain, the flower, the dewdrop".
   The aul Hasa gathered after three days.
   - We were awaiting you, - said Jamada, who was the head of the aul council. - After the misfortune, which happened to us Pago let the aul cares to slide. And we lived here, as the river flows on the plains - slow, according to the current, but not by our will. Now, thank Tkha, you have returned. We are awaiting your instructions.
   - To give instructions to you, the wise members of the Haseh, is to sow the grains of wheat on the snows of Oshkhamaho. But I will say this:
   First: Do not be won by the evil. Overcome the evil by the good. I know this for certain now.
   Second: Give with the opened palm. When you are accepting, keep your palm closed.
   The third: The wind from the tombs of our ancestors blows with the coldness of memory our souls and bodies. Do not try to evade that cold wind behind mountain rocks or in your saklias. It's useless. That cold wind will reach you anywhere. I want to lighten my heart with a confession, but I can't. I am not ready yet. May be later...
   And more... I do not want to have in this aul a single poor family or a poor man. I brought lots of gold. Let our oldsters take a reasonable quantity of coins for everyone needy. I will also donate money for the church and the mosque, for the smithy and the mill, for our herds to become the best in Kabarda. Buy the felt, calico, shirts and shoes for our aulers on the Crimean, Jewish and Russian bazaars.
   What more we need, tell me?
   The aul council was agitated. Such proposition never sounded before.
   - The easy money will spoil the people - said Jamada. - I fear that.
   - My money is not easy, - Dabech objected the sage. - Every time I risked my life for them.
   - We know that - said Maruko, one of the oldsters. - We will take your gold to suffice for widows and those families, which have sick breadwinners.
   - For the church also - Bech insisted. - And for the mosque, and for the herds. Also let us open a school for our children. Let us build a spacious saklia for it. I will bring the teachers. Amysh aul children will grow up clever and happy.
   Everyone agreed to that.
   - Let us now elect a treasurer, so that the money would not be carried away by the wind of doubt over the mountain pass of greed.
   Pako, a man of quiet and reason, was elected to that post.
   - Just tell me the quantity of gold you need for these tasks. I will provide at any moment.
   - Let me calculate accurately, prince, and I will report to you the quantity of holes we will have to mend.
   - Do not mend anything - Bech answered. - Buy new blankets.
   Everybody laughed.
   - One principal question now - Bech uttered. - Temporarily let Uvajoko administer all the aul affairs. You all know him. A gallant warrior, he is not going to the raids due to his age. So he has time to dedicate to aul business.
   - But you, prince? What will be your occupation?
   - I will save my soul. But being close, I will always help, if an important decision should be taken.
   Silence fell in the square. The oldsters and mature men, warriors and sage people - all were silent.
   - What is the matter? - Dabech exclaimed. - I will be around. Approach Uvajoko with all your problems. His word is a law. I am the only one having power to denounce his decision. - Then, after an instant, he added: - and Malichipkh, And Wazermes, the son of Arykshoo, when he returns to our aul. And my son...
   A murmur rolled over the aulers' meeting.
   - Dabech has a son!
   - He is far from here. But he will certainly return. His blood will lead him here.
   A tiny stream of hope was in the eyes of Pago's son. A very tiny stream.
   - Go and see Ustia - his mother told him that day.
   - What for? What shall I tell her?
   - Go to see her. Say nothing. She will tell you what she has in her heart.
  
   The sun was going to the dawn in the blue sky, when Dabech entered the Cossack village. The fireplace smoke was rising from the chimneys in curls. People were coming out of their homes to greet their koonak, the nephew of Arykshoo, who was considered a hero in these places. Cossacks composed a song about him. The girls sitting on the stone benches of their houses stopped to crack the sunflower seeds. The old people got from their seats. The lads followed him. Dabech dismounted and was leading his horse by the braids.
   "How sad is this world" - the prince thought.
   Ustia met him at her wicket. Dabech, seeing Arykshoo's sweetheart, got pale, as the summer moon. Saluting her, he pressed his arm to his heart. Ustia began to cry.
   "My Kateh also cries like that somewhere" - thought the prince.
   The far steppe behind the village was red of setting sun. The Cossack matron led Dabech into the house. Served a table for him. She treated him to the Cossack food, but did not sit at the table.
   - Though not wedded, but I am a daughter-in law of your clan. So I will observe your traditions.
   When she poured a glass of wine from the pitcher, he asked her:
   - Drink with me.
   Ustia agreed:
   - That will be a bitter wine of mourning. I cannot reject it.
   She followed Dabech to the gates, and was crying, when they were parting:
   - You resemble Arykshoo too much!
   All the night the Cossacks drank chihir with Dabech. They sang sad songs. When the dawn began to relieve night, he began to prepare for his way back. The village men were preparing cartridges, tighten their saddlebags, check pistols and rifles.
   Dabech bowed to the Cossacks, but asked not to escort him.
   He said:
   - I have my rifle and my horse. What else a djigit needs? Make a proper funeral repast for Arykshoo! - and he threw to his koonaks a leather pouch with Persian gold. Buy lots of chihir and some horses and shashkas for the young Cossacks...
   When he left Yekaterinogradskaya village, the rising sun seemed to ignite the steppe.
   Soon Dabech once more vanished from the aul, saying shortly:
   - I will be absent for some time.
   He disappeared with his Turkmen warriors and with a dozen of most daring Amysh aulers.
   Everyone was wondering:
   - Where is our prince?
   Some said he went to finish the last taubiyans. But they were wrong:
   - No taubiyans were left alive.
   - The others said:
   - He is looking for Kateh.
   The local molla was shrugging his shoulders:
   - He did not fly to the skies on a magic horse, like the prophet Mohammad.
   The shogen told them to be quiet:
   - Do not fuss. He went without disclosing his destination, and he will tell us where the God took him when he returns.
   Only Malichipkh was undisturbed.
   - He is somewhere close. I feel Bech's breath.
   The prince was not far, true. He was behind the mountain pass, in Malkar aul. Amysh made friends with the Malkars. He loved to guest there and received their rulers, as he would receive Kabardin princes. Pago continued that good tradition.
   Now Dabech went that way.
   - I have come to ask your assistance - he said to Chegembay, the local ruler.
   - A word of Amysh's grandson and Pago's son is a law for us. It would be an honor for me to render any service to you.
   - We have a great cluster of caves behind the aul. Many years ago there were a monastery and a church. People lived there. Stone stairs lead to the caves. Somewhere those stairs collapsed of time and negligence of the Amysh aulers.
   - I know about those caves - said Chegembay. - In my young years I climbed those stairs to the church, all frescoed with the images of saints. In the caves you are speaking about at those times the people's habitation traces were still evident.
   - Silly people ravaged them.
   - Silly and clever people do the same mischief - answered the old Balkar. That is the mill of life. Well, what is your request?
   - I want to restore the stairs, the cave rooms, and the church. Balkars are experienced and skilful masons. Invite Svans from over the mountain pass, if you will consider it necessary. Here is the money - and Bech put a weighty leather pouch with the golden coins on the table.
   - Take the money away. The payment will be done according the results of the work done. Or leave half as a down payment.
   - Your gray hairs guarantee, that all works will be done properly and on time by our Malkar brothers. Your gray hairs and your friendship with Amysh and Pago.
   - My way of living is to tell the truth - Chegembay answered. - After three days the caravan with the builders and their utensils will depart to your gorge.
   Dabech did not want to leave that Malkar aul, old Chegembay, these mountains, resembling his native ones, but slightly different. He did not want to leave the cozy saklia with the warm fire in the fireplace.
   - Will you return, sonny? - asked the old Balkar with hope in his voice.
   - Yes, dada! Without doubt. And you will tell me more about Amysh and Pago.
   Bech was in the doors of the saklia, when he heard, what the old Balkar said:
   - Let the dogwood berries color of your face never turn to the quince color.
   Leaving the aul, Dabech thought: "What a luck it is, that the Gods care about every one of us. But we are also lucky, if we can care about ourselves, too".
   Now his way was to the N fortress.
   Staff captain Maximov was reported, that an abrek arrived, asking to meet him.
   - What abrek? - Maximov inquired strictly.
   - Dabech is the name...
   - Oh! - The captain got fussy.
   He rode out of the fortress gates and saw Pago's son , surrounded by strange men in thick gowns and turbans , armed with crooked sabers.
   - What is all this spectacle about? - he attacked Bech instead of traditional welcome.
   - They are Turkmen warriors. They were with me on my last raids to Persia.
   - Warriors, you say... Persia... Well, tell me where were you all this time?
   - I fought Persians.
   - You robbed Persians, you mean...
   - What if I did? Is not their Shah an enemy of Russia?
   - So, you were fighting for the right cause?
   Dabech kept silence, reining his horse nervously.
   At last Andrey Andreyevich changed his temper:
   - You cannot enter the fortress. The order for your arrest is still valid. Tell me your business and depart.
   - I want the Russian teachers to be sent to the aul. Here is the money - and he handed a purse of the Persian gold to the captain.
   Maximov weighted the purse on his palm.
   - A whole cadet corpse school could be maintained with this money.
   - We need teachers. We are ready to pay what they will ask. Let them set the price themselves.
   - Who will guarantee their safety?
   - You know our traditions. They will be the best guarantee.
   Maximov put the gold into his saddlebag.
   - I knew lots of men, who wanted to commit good acts either to expiate the evil they have already committed or...
   - Or what?
   - Or to get a right to do evil in the future.
   - Do you consider, that the good I try to do is the retribution for what I have done or intend to do?
   - I did not say that. I said, that I knew such people.
   - Koonak Maxim, I am Pago's son, remember? I am not a dimwit.
   - That is good - the captain was undisturbed. - I will write for the teachers to come. That is really a good thing - to have children taught to write and read.
   - How long will it take?
   - Much less than you waited up to now.
   Dabech smirked:
   - We waited for many generations.
   - Leave someone to serve as a guide in the fortress. After ten days the teachers will be in Amysh aul.
   Andrey Andreyevich dismounted. Dabech followed suit. The Turkmen warriors and Amysh aulers stayed in the saddles.
   - Let us find a shade - captain proposed.
   - A tree has one shade - Pago's son answered. - a man has one shade, and a bird...
   - I am not speaking figuratively. I speak about a simple shade of a tree to sit in. Your father taught me - Maximov continued - that the wise words are perceived only by a person, who wants to perceive them.
   - I listen to you - Bech responded.
   - All will be forgotten, Pago's son. The people forgive willingly the mistakes, committed by the other people, if those mistakes do not harm them personally. What has Nazarov or Ubetsok to do with taubiyans? They would arrest you long ago if they wanted to.
   - Do you think that so easy?
   - If they managed to kill the son of Vali...
   - They would pay for that with lots of blood - the eyes of the prince shone fiercely.
   - Do not try to scare us with the bloodshed. We've see lots of it. But your mail shirt is the grief of your aul and of entire Kabarda. People feel sorry for Pago's sons and for Arykshoo. But there would not be any ill feeling, if only one side was to blame.
   - What do you mean by that?
   - Taubiyans proved to be traitors and murderers. But you also violated the highlanders' traditions and human laws. That's what I wanted to tell you.
   - Whose guilt is greater?
   - The one's who committed the first violation.
   - Taubiy's, then!
   - Yes, Taubiy's.
   - Why they want to arrest me, then?
   - No one is left of the other side.
   - Tell me, koonak, was general Zass involved in the Taubiy's plot?
   - I cannot tell you for sure, but our informers report that the answer is -yes.
   -You brought peace to my soul.
   They got up and went out of the old oak's shade.
   - I like you, Pago's son. Take care of yourself. You are the only hope of the ancient Amysh family. Try to save and restore it.
   - How can I, if my soul is all burned to cinders. The ashes are inside. Not fire, but ashes.
   - Try to elevate yourself above the hatred. Remember, that the spring will not bring you joy, if the ice is in your heart. Moslems say: "Let Allah appoint a place for your soul!"
   They parted, with the emotions inside each of them resembling a tempestuous river and a small stream at the same time.
  
   The gorge, in the end of which Amysh aul nestled, was beautiful. The snowy summit was shining in the sun close by, followed by the roaring waterfalls and the kingdom of mineral water springs in the vast ring of the pine forests. Dabech liked the dawns here and never missed them, not to become one dawn poorer. Now the sun did not get up yet, and the white fur hats of the mountains were touched by the rosy hue. Then the bright light splashed the summits. From the neighboring hill the red fire sprinkled, melting the cold, turning the gray slopes into emeralds and sapphires. The prince's keen stare noticed the herd of the proud mountain goats. Their leader listened sensitively and, feeling some danger, signaled alarm. The curly horned herd rushed sideways and vanished.
   "How often my brothers and I deceived the vigilance of the wild goats leader!" - Bech recalled.
   They never shoot more game than they needed. One or two he-goats to treat their guests to sun-dried meat.
   "I was with my brothers, but now I am alone - he thought. - No fast Jelihstan, no cunning Badyn, no sensitive Nasren, no Panuko - the sharpshooter. No one of them around".
   Aul was waking up unwillingly, performing usual morning routine. It changed lately. Because of the builders, some of which came from Svanetia by the difficult mountain pass, the masons of Chegembay, workers from the neighboring auls and Amysh aulers. They toiled from the dawn to the dusk, building the mosque, repairing the church, preparing a school for the children.
   "People always like to create, - thought Dabech. - It makes them happy. Especially, if there is a possibility to see the results of their labor and to hear the kind words of gratitude for their work".
   Some other saklias were being built - for the widows with children, who lost their breadwinners, for the ailing and feeble. The construction was moving fast and Amysh aulers, happy with the progress, said:
   - There would be no flour, if the milling stones were lazy.
   Many of them worked in the caves that nestled high in the mountains, aside from the aul. The stairs, cut in stone, led to the ancient site. There was an abandoned church on the summit of the mountain, but there was still no access to it, since the stairs on the height of a hundred feet were broken in several places. Half ruined towers, guard terraces, underground aqueduct two miles long - all this was astonishing. Young Amysh aulers sometimes climbed to the church and found there the pages of the Gospel in ancient Greek, other religious books. The oldsters prohibited the young to take anything from the church.
   - Best of all, leave it alone. The time will come when people will reconstruct this wonder.
   That time arrived. The masons of Chegembay and Svans were living where they worked. The Amysh aulers and their neighbors were working only in the village.
   They were not permitted to the caves and the church.
   Dabech evidently did not pay much attention to the construction process. He was looking often at the gorge, as if expecting someone.
   "He is waiting for the teachers to arrive - thought Adiyuh - The school is almost ready".
   She was right, but not exactly. The prince has sent messengers to Lu Tin with the letter, in which he described what he wanted the caves above the aul to become. He wrote, that he intends to settle there, and asked his advice and assistance in the equipment of his future dwelling. The letter had a long appendix, listing all that Bech wanted to have in those caves. They were to become an impregnable castle outside and luxurious palace inside.
   "I cannot describe all that I consider fit to be in such a palace, - the prince wrote to his father's friend - though I have seen much of it in Persia. I rely on your experience and taste".
   The school was ready for the junior Amysh aulers; the shogen has served a litany in the temple; new mosque was decorated with carpets, covering its entire floor, and was ready for the faithful to come to prayer. But there was no news about Lu Tin. It seemed, that the hands of time were holding the gorge by its narrow throat. The fetters of hesitation were growing heavy on Dabech: "May be Lu Tin turned his back on me?"
   He did not regret the gold he sent to the merchant for decoration of his palace. He regretted his belief in the human faithfulness.
   One of these days Malichipkh asked him:
   - Why are you building so much in the aul? Are you expiating your sins?
   - No! - her son answered - I cannot eat bread, seeing hungry eyes.
   - We have no hungry people in the aul.
   - You understood what I mean. - Dabech said.
   The blind did not yield:
   - If the God did not want to make all people rich, that is his will. Or else he could distribute armfuls of gold and pearls to every one.
   - I am not distributing jewels. I am building dwellings for the people to be warm, and the temples to warm their souls.
   Mother felt in his words firm conviction of a man who, like the prophet Isa * came to give, not to take.
   - I see that you are waiting for someone - she inquired.
   - Why do you ask me? You know the answer.
   They went out to the saklia's verandah. The light breeze was caressing their faces and tugged at their clothes. Malichipkh looked with the unseeing eyes to the vegetable garden made by unauts according to her orders and said:
   - There on that vegetable bed the pepper could keep to the green color, as it was yesterday. But the time has come and it is red now.
   Dabech was not surprised, that the blind woman distinguished the color of the plant. He simply did not get what was the meaning of his mother's words. He asked:
   - What do you want to say with this?
   - That man you are waiting for is already close by, because his time has come.
   - Thank you, nana - said Dabech quietly.
   On the next day the prince has heard the noise of the approaching caravan from the gorge side.
   The meeting with Lu Tin resembled the taste of the bitter honey from the Shapsugh forests. After the traditional phrases of welcome they could not find the proper words and were silent. When the prince and his guest visited Malichipkh, she said:
   - There is much evil in this world, but there is more good.
   - I will bring to you the best healers of the world to make you see again - Lu Tin promised.
   - What for? - she answered. - If the sun does not warm me any more, will I be able to enjoy the sight of the flowers in the meadow, or the clouds in the sky? Will I be happy on the strangers' weddings if any of them could be the wedding of one of my sons? - Malichipkh said and continued: - Do not reproach yourself. There is
   ____________________
   *Isa - the name of Jesus in the Islam.
   nothing for you to blame yourself about. Did they convey to you Pago's words, that his caravan was robbed by Taubiyans?.
   Lu Tin nodded, forgetting that he is conversing with the blind.
   But the blind women whispered, as if seeing that nod:
   - Remember, that the dead, the living and those still not born to life - they are always together. The dead defend the living, and the living multiply to continue the humane kin. That is the life.
   Later the merchant, after giving necessary instructions to his caravan men, asked to be escorted to the burial mound of Arykshoo, Pago and his six sons. When he was at the distance of a rifle shot from the tombs, the Chinese stopped Dabech with a gesture of his hand and said:
   - I will go further alone. I want to meet their souls myself.
   - When will I return to take you back? - asked the lord of Amysh aul.
   - When you hear the thunder - was the answer.
   "What thunder he is talking about in this weather? - prince thought and asked: - What if there will be no thunder?
   - That is also possible - said the merchant. - Then send your servants for me after the sunset.
   - I will come myself.
   After walking a considerable distance, Lu Tin turned and saw the prince at the same place where he left him.
   - Some things, which seem incredible, are not improbable - he shouted to Pago's son.
   The sun was already behind the point of noon above the mountain, at the foot of which the aul stood, but the sky was still dark blue, and the breeze was not harnessed to the shaft of the day.
   "What thunder the merchant was talking about? - Dabech was in perplexity, observing the clear blue skies.
   Lu Tin was sitting at the mound. He did not cry, he did not sing sad songs, he did not curse the fate, which left the bloody trail on the way of his caravan.
   The Chinese appealed to the Gods, asking to send a thunder from the sky, so that those who were resting in the mound could hear. The time passed, making the short way long, but the sky was still blue, bathing in the rays of the sun.
   Gradually Lu Tin multiplied his request and, when the flicker of hope was ready to die out in the ashes of the day, clouds appeared from the backside of the mountain. They beclouded the neighboring summits and lowered, touching the hilltop of the mound. The rain started, then the thunderbolts flashed and the deafening rumble of the thunder sounded. The raindrops became a torrent, like a waterfall streams.
   "Thank you, The Great Gods. You told Pago about my pain."
   At that moment Dabech's voice sounded behind the merchant's back:
   - I have come for you.
   Dabech was surprised neither by the thunder, nor by the rain.
   " The rainstorm is not so rare in the mountains in summer" - he thought.
   He was astonished by the other observation: the merchant's closes were dry. The prince wanted to inquire about that marvel, but did not dare.
   They were walking home from the mound leading their horses by the bridles. Everything around them was from the fairy-tale - the mountains, the forest, the river. That wizardry was in the beauty. Lu Tin began the conversation, the topic of which was seemingly far from the mound he left recently.
   - What makes you observe the Adyghe Habze?
   - Nothing but our consciousness. But the morals are deteriorating nowadays, and that is the reason of our misfortunes. Not lesser, than the Russian cannons and bayonets.
   - You have rifles and shashkas hanging on the wall of every saklia. You do not need them every day, but when the need arises they are at hand. So the Habze will be handy at a certain hour, at a certain day.
   - No, merchant, - Dabech objected. - Habze is not intended for a certain case. It is for every day.
   - It is living every day, but it becomes handy not to everyone and not every day...
   Dabech shrugged his shoulders. He did not understand such way of thinking, being sure, that Habze either is there, or it is not.
   - The merchants say in such cases: "Look for your money where you have put it"- the Chinese continued his thought.
   - We have put our treasures not into the chests, but into our hearts. Our etiquette has much similarity to yours, the Chinese, and to Arabic, and to Hindu... - he reflected a little and continued: - Kateh always said, that we remind her the medieval knights of Europe. More than other sides of it she liked our attitude to women - Workhabze*.
   Lu Tin nodded his consent, then said:
   - You endure with stoicism your sufferings and difficulties, you despise death, you are modest and polite. Your strict military discipline really makes you similar to Chinese and Japanese.
   They approached the aul, when the cloud took the sky by the throat.
   - The thunderstorm is returning - the merchant said.
   - Let us take refuge in my saklia.
   Only here, sitting at a three-legged table, Lu Tin spoke about Taubiy village:
   - The aul is nonexistent, as I heard, but the aulers are still being blamed.
   - There isn't an offence we will not forgive after avenging it - the host answered.
   - Do they still blame you in these lands?
   - I know very well, that people turn away from the looser. I am a winner, because I took on myself the responsibility for the revenge.
   Lu Tin was silent. Bech also kept a pause, thinking: "I am like the dry tree, or else someone would surely cut down my shade".
   After the death of his brothers his days were flowing like a river of grief. The old, previous was gradually erased from his memory, but sometime the faces from the past surfaced, dragging a line of remembrances. At such minutes the stilled
   ___________________
   *workhabze - the code of honor of the nobles. Here - that part of it which prescribes gentlemanly behavior.
   passions and forgotten offences woke up. Sometimes it seemed, that he is continuing to live on and on, hated by everybody.
   "But there was a time, when I did not suffer! - the prince thought - before I got into the trouble, like into a pitfall".
   Lu Tin interrupted his thoughts:
   - Our reason is our help and our defense.
   - What do you mean by that?
   - Is not the time ripe to whitewash the blackness of your sorrow? That's what I wanted to say.
   - There is sorrow and there is love. Anything else is a lie.
   He ordered to bring in the lunch - veal tongue with sauce, lamb ribs barbecued, pastah, hazel nuts, and honeycomb. Eating, they decided to go together to the caves, where the construction works were in full swing for many days. The way there was not too long, but not short, either. Much was done by dozens of workmen toiling from dawn to dusk already, but much more have to be accomplished to implement the fairy-tale of Dabech into real life.
   - The great Tkha willing - Dabech said about his plans for the future.
   - If you are hurrying the events, then you feel the necessity of it - Lu Tin noted to Pago's son. - I will order to erect my tent at the bridge near the stairs, leading to the caves. So it will be easier for me to inspect the finishing of the premises.
   - Why should you trouble yourself? - the prince asked. - Let the construction go its way, while we go hunting. Then we will go to the horse herds, later still we will visit the Cossack village, where Ustia, Arykshoo's bride and our unchancy sister-in law lives.
   But the Chinese rejected the proposition:
   - I have come to help you. We will have a good time after completion of our business.
   So they agreed to that.
  
  
   The informers reported to the fortress N commander colonel Nazarov:
   - Strange construction works going on in Amysh aul.
   - What is so strange about it? - Yefim Yevdokimovich was interested.
   - The construction works are performed not only in the village, but in the caves above, too.
   This information did not fail to alarm the commandant. " What these Amysh people have in mind? Most probably, they build some fortification!"
   But the informers assured him, that no one cannon was brought to the site. Only decorating silk, velvet and furniture, the likes of which they have not seen in any Line fortress. Nonetheless the officers' council was convened to discuss the problem. It was decided to send an experienced scout to the aul to reconnoiter the situation in detail. Th fortress was full of rumors in his absence. The propositions, which were voiced!
   Staff captain Maximov visited colonel Oblensky on his request. Colonel wanted to discuss the Amysh problem. Vladimir Alexeyevich was sick. It was a fever he got in Chechnia.
   - The thing is that you cannot get used to it. Now you are sweating, the next moment you freeze. But I am interested by this aul problem. What Dabech is constructing there, I wonder? Is it a place to hide away from us, to avoid being arrested?
   - He isn't worried about the possibility of arrest at all,- Andrey Andreyevich assured him - The doors of assistance are opened to him in every saklia.
   - But they say - Oblensky wanted to narrate the version, which was popular in the fortress, but captain stopped him:
   - Do not listen to the rumors, listen to what they are silent about. Because, as the prophets said, nobody can avoid the triple evil: suspicion, slander and envy. But I think that I have a key for that riddle.
   - Then disclose that secret to me - Vladimir Alexeyevich was exited and forgot about his fever.
   - You see, - Maximov began - Pago's son has many hermitages in this world. But he selected the one he is constructing now in the vicinity of his aul. There are many reasons for that. He will be living quite close to his aul, but separately. He will have proper defense. I know those stairs leading to the ancient hamlet. One good marksman will stop a battalion. That is that...also he wants to bury his bitter memories in those caves. But will it be possible, I wonder?
   Oblensky called his aid-de-camp and ordered:
   - Get busy about our lunch, my friend.
   Andrey Andreyevich decided to depart:
   - Lots of things to do, your Excellency, - murmured he to decline the host's invitation.
   But the colonel asked him kindly and firmly at the same time:
   - Please, stay, Andrey Andreyevich. We will taste a new chihir they brought me on the eve. Ten rubles for a barrel, they said. I ordered to pay them fifty. What a price for a fifty-gallon barrel of wine!
   - They would be glad to get those ten rubles for that barrel - captain answered. - It is difficult to sell it here. If there were a way to transport it to the capital, the price would be ten rubles for a single pitcher.
   Colonel supported his idea:
   - When you retire, do just that - open a wine store in the capital. Call it "Old Soldier's Wine yard." You will have tremendous success, you know.
   The wine really warmed the soul. Vladimir Alexeyevich just sipped at his glass, due to his illness. But Andrey Andreyevich drank his share of the Cossack wine. They were treated to the roast venison on a big cast-iron pan with Daghestan cakes - that was done on the express will of the host - and pickles. Apples, soaked in the sour-cabbage barrel, were especially good.
   The wine made the Caucasian veteran talkative, and he tried to narrate some interesting stories to the colonel, jumping from one to the other.
   - You know... You meet the highlanders, you eat their pastah, and they pat you on your shoulder...They press their hand to their heart to show their especial devotion to you...But all these embraces and good-will gestures from the times immemorial have only one aim: to hate each other more...
   - You mean, that they are playing this game between themselves, too?
   - I mean, that they do it between themselves mainly. With us they are either enemies, or koonaks. If they have accepted you as their koonak, it is for a lifetime. My koonak relations with them defend me better, than my cuirass in the battle. That is so...
   The scout returned to the fortress from the Amysh aul after one week of absence. His report indicated, that no military fortification is being constructed there. Nazarov was relieved:
   - Thank God!
  
  
   His next visit to the caves Dabech was walking with Lu Tin along the narrow gorge, which the mountain river cut in the rocks. They were talking about the construction - what was completed, what was near completion, and what was earmarked for the future.
   - Prince, why don't you want to see the finished rooms - the chapel, the bedrooms, the libraries, the big hall and servants' rooms?
   - I am not in a hurry, - Dabech answered. The time will come and you will show me the whole palace.
   - The knowing people selected the place. The caves are absolutely dry and maintain constant temperature...
   - Do you mean, that it will need no fire in the winter to warm it up?
   - I did not say so.
   The southern wind, pregnant with flowers' fragrance was touching their faces lightly. The mountain lilies exhaled tenderness, refreshed by the drops of dew on their petals. The trout thrashed in the crystal river to catch a fly. The dragonfly was following its own shadow. A big fly was caught in the spider web and awaited for its destined hour.
   - I saw a dream last night. Cavkazos was asking for help. I hurried to assist him, but someone held my horse back by the bridle.
   - Cavkazos? I do not know anyone by that name.
   - He is an abrek. He wanted to help my brothers in the Taubiy aul, but was late.
   - What that abrek told you in your dream?
   "It's a heavy predicament to kill a man - he said. - Even in the combat. But it is much worse if you are being killed by that man".
   - Was it all he came into your dream for?
   - Is it not enough for you?
   - No, prince. But it is not to tell a maxim people come to us in the dreams. He had to inform you about something. The dreams are the language of the Almighty. He talks to us with that. What more Cavcazos told you?
   - He said: "In this life we must not fear those we dream about; we must fear the living. I am going to you. But Habala, uzden from Malka, will kill me on my way. We have the blood revenge between us. I have no more men in my kin left. Nobody to avenge me. Have you remembered the name? Habala".
   They have stopped, listening to the river's noise.
   - Do you know why the dreams are so interesting? -Lu Tin asked.
   Dabech shrugged his shoulders.
   - They are, because they realize sometimes.
   Dabech obviously did not want to continue that theme.
   - Are you homesick? Do you want to return to China?
   The merchant looked at him in astonishment:
   - Wherever and however long we would live, we will consider our birthplace
   that place, where the river of our life looks like a tiny stream. At my home, in our valleys, now is the hot time of yellow lilies, like here.
   - Do they fight there, too? - Dabech inquired.
   - People fight everywhere. The reasons for it are multiple, but the main one is the stupidity.
   Light shadow appeared on the prince's face:
   - I thought, that the white Czar is the one to blame.
   - White Czar or a yellow one... What is the difference?
   - Amysh had several rules: do not steal, do not envy, do not be greedy. I think that some of the prophets prompted him. If the people observed these simple rules, there would be no wars.
   - God knows, - the merchant sighed. - People would find other reasons.
   - I must understand that. I am a warrior. I must not be mistaken - Pago's son said.
   - And I am a merchant. I have to take risks. No profit without risk.
   - Risk has two sides, like the blade of a sword.
   - But the result may be very gratifying.
   They parted, when the horizon grew dark.
   - Let the shadow of the Humaya* bird cover you, bringing you happiness - said the merchant, parting with Dabech.
   - Let the Gods prolong your happy years - the prince answered.
   During their next meeting Lu Tin asked Dabech:
   - Tell me, prince, why did you bring Turkmen warriors with you? Weren't the warriors of Kabarda enough for you?
   Pago's son kept silence, pretending not to hear the question. The merchant did not insist, too. They were inspecting the finished premises in the caves. One of the library rooms was filled with the geographical maps, globes and the models of famous temples, cathedrals and mosques.
   - And this is your gorge -The Chinese indicated a separate map. - Here - the aul, the river, the mountain over it...
   Dabech was very impressed.
   The builders managed to reconstruct the aqueduct and the baths, and the gardeners made tiny flower and fruit gardens of the small terrazzo.
   A complicated fireplace system was to warm the entire cave. The candles and numerous torches were illuminating the rooms, though some of them did not need
   ___________________
   *Humaya (Hamayun) bird- in Oriental mythology a sacred bird of luck, richness and power
   artificial illumination, being located at the roof of the caves.
   - This is your room - said the merchant to the host, showing him his bedroom.
   - Aren't the others?
   The Chinese laughed:
   - Everything here is yours. I meant to say, that this is a room, where you will sleep.
   A little aside from that room there was another one, which was clearly decorated for a woman.
   - Is it prepared for a concubine? - Dabech inquired.
   - Why? You are a young man. You will marry. Amysh kin should be prolonged.
   Dabech smirked:
   - No, merchant. Kateh is far away. She is lost in this great world, and I won't bring another woman here. Love will punish me for that. The memories about her torment me as a prisoner, who escaped from the prison only to be thrown into a slavery pit.
   - Stop tormenting yourself. - Lu Tin answered. - Do not trouble your soul. Everything will right itself out.
   - It seems to me that the devil got into my soul since I have burnt the Taubiy aul.
   - Your feelings are understandable - answered him Lu Tin.
   When they descended steep stairs, nestled to the rock on the bewildering height, to the merchant's tent, Dabech returned to the theme, which the Chinese initiated in the morning:
   - You asked me why I brought the Turkmen warriors with me. Everything is very simple and very complicated at the same time. Do you remember the story about the family crucifix and the ring?
   - Yes, it is impossible to forget.
   - So. It got a continuation. Before Amysh left this world, the oldster and the girl visited him and said to take the treasures from the cave. But my granddad refused.
   The oldster and the girl came to Pago on his last day and repeated their request. But Pago declined it, too.
   When I was in Persia, the girl came to me alone and ordered to take the hidden treasure. I decided to fulfill that dictation. That is why I took the Turkmen with me. With their help I hid it anew. When this construction would be completed, we will bring the treasures to these caves. Did you understand everything?
   - No, prince - the merchant replied. - I still am at a loss and do not get the way of your thinking.
   - If I did this work with my compatriots, everybody would know about the hidden treasure. The gold always brings discord. Gold, bloodshed and grief are inseparable.
   - That is why Amysh and Pago refused to take the treasure - Lu Tin said. - Does it mean, that you trust Turkmen more, than you trust your own people?
   - It is not that. After they fulfill the work, I will pay the Turkmen generously and send them home. They will not return. Ever. If my compatriots did that work for me... - the prince stopped. He was not short of words, but he did not want to pronounce them.
   - You would have to kill them? - guessed Lu Tin.
   - Or they would kill me.
   At this time the Turkmen's chieftain arrived to invite the prince and the merchant to lunch.
   - I ordered to prepare pilaf - he said - I beg you to accept invitation to our modest meal.
   Pilaf from the caldron was put into wooden dishes and Dabech said grace to the great Tkha. When after that he stretched his arm to take some pilaf from the dish, the merchant whispered to him:
   - Wait, prince. Let the Turkmen taste the food first. They may poison you to get those treasures.
   Bech laughed:
   - It is impossible. They know, that if something happens to me, no one of them will ever leave this gorge alive. That was my order.
   - You are not only a warrior, but also an Oriental wise man, - Lu Tin noticed, commencing his lunch.
   While they enjoyed pilaf, the prince told his guest, that he is going to take for upbringing the son of his nephew Barina when he will be born - to make him the Amysh clan's heir.
   - What if she bears a girl? - was the question.
   - I will take my nephew Dahawos, marry her to a worthy warrior and announce their son the descendant of the Amysh's kin.
   - Will her husband like that idea?
   - He will like it, if he will love Dahawos.
   - Wouldn't it be better for you to get married and have a son?
   - I already answered that question of yours. Besides, the people say that I have a son from Kateh. May be, the fate will unite us sometime.
   When he returned to the aul, he was notified, that the teachers from Pyatigorsk arrived to his school. It was good news. But there was a sad one, also. Cavcazos was ambushed and killed.
   - Is Habala the murderer?
   People were not astonished by his question. They were used to the marvels, demonstrated by the Amysh clan members. They knew many things, they guessed many events, but they could not divert the forthcoming woe, they could not change the flow of events.
   Dabech welcomed the teachers heartily, paid them money in advance for the work to be done, accommodated them in the saklias, specially constructed for that purpose. Then he personally led them to the new school building. Finishing with this, he called for ten volunteers to accompany him to Pyatigorsk.
   - We have some business there. Cavcazos must be avenged. He had no one else.
   Many warriors volunteered, but Dabech selected ten only. The Turkmen also asked to take them, but Dabech explained:
   - This is our revenge. You should not be involved in that.
   Without bidding farewell to Lu Tin and his mother, Dabech vanished from the village.
   Malichipkh said to Adiyuh, her daughter:
   - He is missing his bloody profession.
   But Adiyuh objected:
   - Was it not Cavcazos who came to rescue our brothers in Taubiy aul? Had he a spare life to loose there? No! Now he is killed. Who will avenge his blood? Cavcazos had no kin of his own.
   - But if we will not stop this savage tradition - the blind insisted - there will be no men alive left in all Kabarda soon.
   Adiyuh did not continue to argue with her mother.
   "We did not start that tradition, - she thought - and it is not our mission to stop the tradition of blood revenge".
   The days dragged. When the thin scimitar of the moon crescent turned into full moon and there were still no news about Dabech, Adiyuh asked her mother:
   - What the Great ones say about my brother?
   - They have no time for him. They are busy with some great tusk. But I will tell you, that the coop already turned the horses back. They cannot travel fast, because two of the aulers are wounded.
   Adiyuh wanted to leave the room, when the blind stooped her:
   - Do not hurry. I communicated with your daughter. Are you interested to know the news about her?
   - If my desire means anything...
   - She said, that the people there swear by the name of the Sun, as we do.
   - Was that the reason of your communication with her?
   - Why are you hurrying me?
   - Sorry, nana, continue, please. I am all ears.
   - Daha said, that in her last dream she was walking a narrow bridge without banisters. The bridge was over a turbulent river. And the bridge was worn out. She should fell, but did not.
   - Is it a good omen? - Adiyuh asked.
   - Would it be better, if she fell? - her mother answered. - Then Daha asked me to fly with her over the mountains. I did not know those places - she continued - but I was afraid to let her fly alone and I consented. We flew over very high summits.
   - Higher, than Oshkhamaho?
   - Yes, my daughter, much higher...
   - And then, what was after that?
   - We sat in the garden with thousands of outlandish trees and flowers. And Daha told me, that the monks in the monastery told her the same words I was telling her long ago.
   - Which words?
   - That the young people never consent to the opinion of the old in their souls. They only pretend to fulfill their advice without complaint. But really they think themselves much cleverer than their fathers. She wanted to object, Daha said, but the monks stopped her: "It was so. It is so. It will be so for ever. The aim of our teaching is to convince people in that".
   - When she will be home?
   - Soon.
   Dabech's detachment returned to the aul at the full moon. Two Moslems turned their horses to the mosque and dismounted. They entered the house of Allah and prayed for a long time.
   Christians came to the church. Stood at the gates. Then they went home. Nobody asked them about their mission. People knew: if the coop has returned, their duty has been fulfilled.
   - Why did you take another sin on your soul? - Malichipkh asked her son the other day.
   - Had I any choice? - he replied. - Disloyalty is worse than death. We were friends with Cavcazos.
   - Sometimes the dirty comes out of the bath clean, but sometimes the clean come out of the bath dirty - old woman said.
   - This case was different.
   - You are fighting with the whole world - sighed his mother. - How can you be at peace with yourself?
   Dabech did not answer. His rule was to hold a pause, if he did not want to converse about the theme in question. His mother noticed this habit of his long ago. And she liked that habit.
   On the eve of the day Lu Tin was to depart on his way to the Undersky Empire they inspected the caves once more. They attentively surveyed marvelous creation of the Chinese masters, Svan and Chegembay's masons.
   - Are you satisfied? - the merchant asked his koonak.
   - Is it possible to be dissatisfied with this marvel?
   - Live happily. I am leaving several servants in the castle. The local unauts will not be able to maintain all this in a proper condition.
   Dabech thanked the merchant for his sagacity.
   - I will send some other servants, which I consider necessary to have in such a castle. Do you agree?
   - Yes, if you consider it necessary.
   The merchant expressed a desire to take with him the Turkmen warriors for escort.
   - Our way is the same - he said.
   But Dabech objected:
   - That road only seems to be the same. The taubiyans taught me a lot. Let the Turkmen return their way, and the caravan - your way.
   - You trust nobody - the smile of the merchant was bitter.
   - My life taught me.
   Dabech saw Lu Tin's small caravan to the exit from the gorge.
   - Fifty Kabardins will escort you further. The money I paid to your people for their labor may attract many villains. I do not want the story of Taubiy aul repeat.
   - Neither do I - the merchant said.
   - I do not think we will see each other again - Dabech continued. - I want you to know, that I loved you always and I am happy, that your destiny brought you to Kabarda. Let Zekotkha* guard you on your way, because the road is your trade.
   - Separation is always painful. I got used to that feeling, departing from my home and bidding farewell to my new friends, whom I met on my way - said the Chinese. - Listen to me, prince. Your ancestors, like all Caucasians, wanted to bring up their sons as gallant, as they were. That is natural. They succeeded. You courage does not yield to the courage of your ancestors.
   Pago's son considered proper to shrug his shoulders modestly, indicating his disagreement.
   - Now listen to my advice, - Lu Tin continued: - "Do not answer a stare by a stare, because the first stare belongs to you, the second one is directed against you...
   The path, leading from the gorge, was deserted long ago, but Dabech still stood motionless, listening to the sounds of river beating against the rock in the narrow ravine and moaning.
   "Now is the time, predicted by old Amysh: "When you will have no friend around, consult your fur hat" - the prince thought.
  
  
   The autumn leaves were already burning the wings of the migratory birds with their scarlet colors, but Bech was still reluctant to move to his new palace, which was erected so lovingly among the rocks and inside the rocks by Lu Tin. He came here, admired cozy rooms, studied the contents of the libraries. He liked the halls, bedrooms and the servants' rooms. He liked to taste the food, prepared in the castle's kitchens, but inevitably went to sleep in his saklia. It continued quite long, until Malichipkh inquired:
   - Do you know what habit is?
   - Probably - Bech replied without enthusiasm.
   - I think you don't. You do not know. The habit is a thing, which is impossible to throw out over the threshold. Habit must be led, as one leads a newlywed to the bridal room, by the elbows. Without haste, step by step. Your stairs are too steep.
   - You are right, as always, ana - Dabech agreed.
   - Have you got what I told you?
   - Yes.
   - Then go and live some time in your den. Isn't that what you wanted?
   - What will happen to me in that palace? What will be with my life?
   - It is difficult to foretell. Always. Especially when you are talking about the future of your son.
   - But still...
   - I see a woman beside you in that palace. Young and beautiful...
   - Isn't she Kateh?
   - No, not Kateh. This is another woman.
   Dabech shrugged his shoulders. He knew too well, that Kathy burned his heart to cinders. He knew, that all the beauties of the world would not replace his beloved. After the death of his brothers the entire world was sad, even when the terrazzo gardens bloomed.
   - I see, that you did not believe me, - Malichipkh smiled - though the changes I told you about are quite close now.
   - We, the mortals, will never understand the great Tkha's intentions - Bech replied.
   But beginning from that day he began to visit the caves oftener, staying there for the night. What was going on there, what happened in the distant mysterious corners? Everyone in the aul was trying to guess, but no one could say for certain. Dabech was said to have concubines, brought from Persia, Georgia, Nogay murza and, of course, kidnapped from Cossack villages nearby. He was informed of those rumors.
   He laughed:
   - Don't they say that I have grown a tail, or that I drink human blood and devour babies? Oh, the people! Well, I cannot please everyone!
   Later he brushed their reports away:
   - Stop buzzing like bees!
   The spiders that knit the web of remembrances disturbed him by nights. In the mornings the thoughts and afterthoughts could be read in the depth of his sad eyes. But there was no one to read them. That's why Bech was alone and woebegone in his palace. He issued usual instructions on his household. Below, at the beginning of the stairs, he ordered to have livestock - buffaloes and goats to have fresh cheese, butter and Kalmyk tea on his table in his new house. Lambs, poultry, cheese, eggs, millet pastah and game were the staple food of the inhabitants of the palace. The people, left by Lu Tin, grew vegetables on the terrazzo, and the Chinese cook prepared aromatic and appetizing sauces from the spices, left to him by the departing caravan men.
   Dabech went to the horse herds often, staying there for prolonged periods. These were the best days of his life. He liked to hunt. The sweet weariness of the man, who followed the trail and pursued the game all day long distracted him from the past. He never shot much game. Several ulars or partridges, or one mountain he-goat or a fallow deer was his usual trophy.
   Once, when the winter was at hand, Bech descended the stone stairs and waited for his horse to be brought to him. At this moment a White Mountain He-goat got out of the rocky forest nearby. The prince shook his head, trying to avoid delusion, but in vain. The goat was approaching. He came close and touched Bech with his muzzle. Great bent horns and snow - white hide. But he was not firm on his legs, swaying from one side to the other. The prince thought, that the goat is wounded. But brief inspection showed no damage. His servant, who led the horse to him, dropped on his knees, whispering:
  -- White Goat! White Goat!
  -- Bech remembered, that there was a popular belief, that if a White Goat comes
   to people, it should be cared for, fed and groomed. God sends him. Without sharp movements, speaking low. the prince told his servant:
   -There is a bag with the fried millet flour. Take it slowly and hand it to me. getting the bag, Bech took an armful and extended his hand to the goat:
   -Here you are, the God -sent! Accept my treat!
   The White Goat was eating unhurriedly from the prince's palm
   -Now we have got acquainted - said the palace owner to his unexpected gust.
   After feeding the mountain goat, Dabech said:
   -Now let us go to the aul. People there will be glad to see you.
   He made several steps and turned back to look at the animal. The White Goat was standing, shaking his head to and fro.
   -Come on, come on! - the prince called him.
   he made ten more steps and turned to look at the mountain creature. The goat was following him.
   -Ride to the aul, - the prince said to his servant - tell them to take away the dogs not to frighten our guest, sent to us by the great Tkha. tell the people to come out.
   The servant rode forward, while Bech was walking slowly to the aul. The White Goat was following him with difficulty.
   " He is swaying, because he is weak. Or sick, probably".
   Amysh aulers went out to meet the White Goat. They were singing songs and thanking God Almighty for the favor. The mountain goat was not frightened by the people and did not try to run away; he just pressed more closely to the Bech's side.
   -People - the prince addressed to his aulers. The Almighty sent us this White Goat. You have heard, that such favor is not sent to each generation of people. I presume, that Pago, Arykshoo and my poor brothers asked the great Tkha about it. He is here now. Feed him, water him, and give him salt to lick. If he will want to go away - do not try to prevent him. If he prefers to stay - be kind to him.
   Saying this he mounted his horse and rode to the caves.
   The White Goat wanted to follow the prince, but understanding that the horse was too fast for him, stayed with the people. He lived in the aul till the spring came, and then returned to the mountains as quietly, as he appeared at the stairs to the Bech's palace.
   But it will happen in the spring. That night Bech saw a dream. The White Goat was telling him: "Your roads were not straight. All were steep, as those, which lead to your caves or as the paths winding among the rocks".
   - "But sharp turn does not happen on the road only - it may happen in the song
   also". - Bech answered in that dream.
   - "Beware not to turn into the lane of the doomed" - said the White Goat and
   vanished.
   Bech wanted to ask his visitor what he must do to avoid that lane, but woke up. There was no one to ask.
   The prince met with the White Goat many times after that. Their last encounter happened in the winter, when he descended from the mountains to visit his mother. Passing by, he entered the homestead, where the goat was kept. The goat recognized the prince and nuzzled his leg.
   - Bring me some fried millet - Bech ordered.
   He was handed a wooden plate with the millet flour. Bech took it and hold it to the goat, which approached and began to lick savory mixture.
   - So, you acknowledge, that you recognized me - said Dabech affectionately -You did not forget me. - he put the plate on the snow in front of the goat and went away.
  
   Several days before Barina, elder sister of Dahawos, born a child, a girl. She was the third girl in succession. They called her Jan. Outside the saklia the snow covered the fields and the mountains with white blanket. The nature was dozing frigidly. Th world was frozen through. The morning was rising all in soft and fluffy snowflakes. Akunda, Adiyuh's mother-in law, returned to the saklia from the yard where she threw some grain to the hens. She was propagating the winter freshness around her.
   - The son of your granny is coming - she said.
   Barina looked at the entrance door, Adiyuh looked at Akunda. Akunda looked at the door to the adjoining room, from where Malichipkh appeared, as if she heard the news.
   - I knew that he would come - said the old woman. - I knew that...
   There was something alarming in her elderly voice. This dismay filled the saklia, then crept to the corners and hid there.
   Someone was at the door.
   - You have brought a girl home again - the entered man said.
   He was tall. Even too tall for an average man. Slender as a youth, and flexible as an irbis. His gray eyes surveyed the room in an instant, leaving nothing. Barina admired her mother's brother unwillingly. Broad shoulders, thin girly waist, long legs and arms. He could fasten the laces of his red morocco leather high boots without bending down. But when she looked him in the face she felt the shiver run down her spine: that young body had the face of the old man.
   In spite of the cold, the guest was dressed lightly. He was without hat, and his long hairs were tumbling to his shoulders. He stood, and the snowflakes were melting on his dress. The room filled with the fragrance of grasses, as if he brought an armful from the alpine meadow.
  -- A girl again - Dabech repeated and made a step to Jan.
   Adiyuh stretched her hands forward to defend he granddaughter. But the guest did not pay any attention to her. He was looking intently at the baby. And the baby looked at him. One instant it seemed to everybody, that the girl smiles at him.
   - What do you want, Dabech? - Malichipkh asked.
   He did not answer, but his cold gray eyes got warm, looking at the baby, making his face kind and calm. Dabech unbuttoned his frock, took from his neck a heavy golden chain with a big cross hanging from it. He made a sign of cross over the child, lying in the cradle, covered with white lambskins and went out silently.
  -- He couldn't wait until a boy will be born. His time is running out. He is getting
   old - Malichipkh said hoarsely - This devil has to name his heir to live his name and his hatred to him. That is why he picked her.
   At this moment the baby began to cry.
   - Dahawos will return soon. I will give her to Bech instead of Jan.. She will live in the caves. They will get on. Daha is just like him.
   Dabech was leaving the aul. Slowly he followed his own tracks he left on the snow coming here from the mountains. The aulers rushed from their houses.
   - He is returning to his den - Daduh said in a low voice. Nobody paid any attention to her words. They knew, that Dabech and Daduh were dating before Kathy appeared. They met secretly at the Red Rocks, where the sun and the water, falling from terrible height, broke into millions of drops, bearing rainbows. But then Kathy appeared and all those events happened. Dabech became an abrek and then settled high above the aul.
   Dabech's kin was ruling in these places long ago. So long, that even the ancient stones could not relate when the gorge, the river, the forest and the saklias, pressed against the rocks, everything here was called by the names of Dabech's ancestors. People said, that the local princes are descendants from Arabia; that once upon a time they built the city of Pest in Hungary, that after that they came to the Caucasus and settled in the gorge. Was it true or not? Nobody would dare to confirm that, but on the solemn occasions the members of the clan swore by the name of the great Tkha, Holy Virgin Marissa and Laroon, the ancestor of the Arabian kings. Amysh, Pago's son and grandfather of Dabech, ordered to build a temple of Aus Gerg on the Holy Mountain over the aul. The priests from Greece and Genoa changed in the temple, but Pago did not pass over the threshold of the monastery. He raided the domains of the princes on the plains, robbed Dadiani* and Crimea, driving home herds of sheep and horses, bringing home slave females, beautiful as the stars.
   ________________
   Dadiani - ancient Georgian princes
   He never felt any remorse at a spilt blood, some other people's daughters taken captive, or for his robbery and brigandage. It was just as natural to him as the sunrise, snowflakes in winter night or neighing of a foal on alpine meadow. Sometimes, returning from the raid, Pago and his comrades approached the stonewalls of the temple and set in their saddles silently, kneading their fur hats in their arms. These were the minutes they prayed to God to forgive their sins, leaving their load at the sacred threshold. After a moment of repentance they were shouting and galloping along the village streets to indulge in a gay party and boast to the country beauties about their exploits in the strange lands.
   "How long ago it was! - thought Dabech, leaving aul. -How long ago! My granddad, my father, Arykshoo. Am I myself that daring and happy Bech I remember?"
   After that day Dabech descended many times to his mother's saklia to have a good look at the newly born girl. Jan was growing rapidly and it made him happy.
   - What do you want from this girl? - Malichipkh came out of her room during one of his visits. - Why do you trouble her?
   - What do I do to trouble Jan? - Bech objected.
   - Leave the girl alone! Everything you touch should be purified by prayers.
   - Don't you spare your time for conversations with the God!
   But Malichipkh was reluctant:
   - Leave her alone!
   Dabech seated his mother on the broad sofa in the far corner of the room and sat beside her. Taking her palms in his, he implored:
   - Nana! Is the fate of my kin indifferent to you?
   - Your kin became my kin long ago.
   - Then why don't you want to understand, that it will perish soon? I am the last of its men.
   - But she is a girl. If the boy were in that cradle...
   - I will bring her up, give her to wedlock. She will bear a son, which will take the name of the Amysh clan. And then...
   - Why don't you marry? Kateh did marry.
   - Dabech shook his head:
   - Nana, let's not talk about it.
   Malichipkh stared at her son with her unseeing eyes.
   - Then, - she said - then wait till Dahawos returns. She is similar to you in spirit. Same obsession and audacity in thoughts and behavior.
   - Will she undertake such a heavy task?
   - Will this little baby in the cradle do it?
   - I will bring Jan up.
   - Wait for Dahawos to return - his mother stood up and went away to her room.
   The winter snow melted on the aul streets and the spring blossomed on the terrazzo gardens. Only then Daha returned home where everyone was so anxious to see her. Lu Tin's people took Dahawos from Bhutan. They traveled their secret paths for many days and nights to appear suddenly at the native village of the young Kabardin princess. People were rejoicing, the mules and camels of a small caravan added to the tumult. Only Daha was absolutely indifferent. She dismounted silently and was walking the aul street. People were standing behind their wattle fences, curious at the guest's outlandish Bhutan dress, which she refused to change for a Kabardin boztsey* lots of which Lu Tin send her. Some people welcomed her, and then she modestly returned the words of greeting. But most of the aulers stared silently at the princess, who vanished so mysteriously after the events in the Taubiy aul.
   "Dahawos returned!" - this news rolled along the main street and reached Malichipkh's saklia before the girl approached her native home. Adiyuh run out to meet her.
   - Daughter dear!
   Mother's hands twined around Daha's neck.
   - Nana, don't! What the people will say if they see us!
   The daughter resolutely moved her mother aside and entered the saklia. Nothing changed here in her absence. What could change? The dim light was illuminating the room with the same chests, carpets, sofa and wooden shelves. Dahawos went to the baby Jan and kneeled at her cradle.
   - Is it my nephew?
   - Yes, - Barina replied.
   - The third girl?
   - The third girl... men do not want to be born under this roof.
   The baby stretched her tiny hands and embraced the princess. Some warm feeling, not experienced before, run down the Daha's spine, comforting heart and soul.
   - How beautiful you are! - Dahawos said, inhaling the sweet baby smell. - How pretty!
   Jan laughed, making everybody laugh, including Adiyuh, which returned from the yard.
   - Do you know, who has the most of children? -Daha asked her mother.
   She shrugged her shoulders.
   - The childless - princess replied.
   Everybody laughed again. Little Jan was also smiling. Malichipkh came out from her room.
   - Daha, - she said to her granddaughter, as if seeing her - Daha! Come to me.
   The girl obeyed. The grandmother passed her elderly fingers over the granddaughter's face, shoulders and dress.
   - How wonderful it is to be young - she said.
   - But it is comfortable to be old - was the answer.
   - What is so comfortable?
   - Everyone obeys and respects you.
   - Oh, - Malichipkh objected, - they are not really obeying. They just pretend to.
   And respect... They do not know what real respect to the oldsters is. Formerly...
   Daha smirked:
   - Nana, they repeat these rebukes from the times of Adam and Eve. There, where I returned from, people say: " Do not invent any ailments for yourself. Invented ones are incurable".
   - That is not an illness. That is a vain expectation of the gratitude for the deeds done.
   - Nana, any debt is paid by someone sometime.
   - I do not want it to be paid to someone.
   - What do you want, then?
   - I want the debtor to pay.
   Daha agreed with that and kept silent. The old woman waited for their discussion to be prolonged. Hearing no remarks, she changed the theme:
   - What is that dress you are wearing?
   The girl was surprised: "How the blind saw her dress?"
   - So, what is that dress?
   - This is a dress of Bhutan lamas. Their monks.
   - Are they similar to our idler - the shogen?
   - I would not say so, nana. They are quite different.
   - Well, let them be. Let them wear their dresses in their mountains, but you will wear the dress befitting the young highlander princess.
   - I will, nana - Dahawos consented quickly.
   Leaving the room, Malichipkh asked her granddaughter:
   - Did you feel good during my last visit?
   - Yes, nana. We flew over the mountains for so long a time!
   - I thought that you were tired.
   - No, nana. I tried to fell back, because I wanted to touch the snowy peaks by my hands. Once I managed to do it, but you noticed and made me fly forward to observe me.
   - Don't do it again. And do not fly without me.
   - Are you afraid, that I will scorch my wings?
   - No, I just want you to obey me. Without that I am not sure which fait you will take.
   Those present in the room did not pay attention to their conversation. They were accustomed to the Malichipkh's strange behavior long ago. Exiting the room, the granny turned at the door and said to the girl:
   - Many of us had to make a long way by foot, before getting the wings.
   - I am afraid to mistake the fall with the flight.
   - Don't fear. They are distinguished easily. Think : "Am I floating or am I falling?" The answer is understandable instantly - if not to you, then to the people around you.
   Before she entered her room, she turned and said:
   - See Dabech. He is waiting for you.
   Dahawos intended to visit Dabech without Malichipkh's advice. Lu Tin sent Dabech the larger part of the caravan load. What was not there! From outlandish spices to two pretty concubines - one Persian, the other Chinese.
   - We will deliver the load to Dabech in the morning - princess ordered. Now feed the people and put them for the night. Send the camels, horses and mules to the nearest pasture.
   She also ordered the bales with the presents for her grandmother, her mother and other relatives to be brought in. To make the kindness full, there must be a grain of light-mindedness in it. Just a tiny grain. That lightness of mind was demonstrated by Daha, when she said:
   - Here you will find everything for everybody. I am tired and will turn in for the night.
   Her room, which was empty for such a long time, was already prepared by unauts. Several gogons* with warm water and the big copper basin were ready for Daha's bath.
   "One more day is over. The eternity, which fitted in an instant. And that was also the end of the circle I had to go round. What I learned new? Much and little at the same time. If you are going along a circle without stop, you will surely return to the departure point. That is like the Sun's orbit".
   She fell asleep immediately, for she was trained by her Oriental lamas to extinguish her consciousness instantly, submerging into the state of nonexistence. In Bhutan she learned to sleep without dreams - one more priceless acquisition. Daha opened her eyes with the light of morning. Clear, light head. Neither sad, nor glad thoughts. The unaut girl entered the room. The princess looked at her, as if seeing something welcome but unasked for.
   - Good morning to you! - the girl greeted her mistress.
   - A very good morning to you, too - answered the princess, suddenly remembering, that she is home, in her native aul.
   - You got up early - welcomed her Adiyuh - Your day will be successful.
   - Success comes not only to those, who get up with the first crow of the cock, but also to those, who get up in good mood - the daughter answered to her mother.
   - Are yours a good mood?
   - Very.
   The day routine began.
   At noon she met with Dabech.
   Arriving at the foot of the stairs leading to the caves, Dahawos sent to announce her arrival. The prince appeared immediately.
   - You seem to descend from the sky - Dahawos embraced him affectionately.
   He remembered Kateh at once. His heart constricted and fell down. He did not try to get it back, but paled. He was silent, making a visible effort to regain self- control. His nephew, understanding his feelings, did not mention her friend.
   They ascended the steep stairs to the castle. The princess was bewildered by it. After the lunch, which Dabech gave in honor of his favorite nephew in the Red Hall, they went to inspect the goods, delivered by her caravan for Dabech.
   - I did not know, that there are so many astonishing things there - the girl exclaimed.
   Dabech was also glad to see many things Lu Tin sent him: porcelain dishes with Chinese and Indian flowers, multicolored porcelain statuettes, vases of soft porcelain; wall mirrors, silver boxes and bolls; Persian carpets (Bidshar, Safavi, Kashkai, Gherat) and tapestry; black lacquered chests, marble table, several cases for jewelry and chandeliers of milky glass...
   The prince especially liked the tapestry, depicting Holy Mary, the chandelier with the figure of Diana and the rifles with their stocks inlaid with ivory and barrels with the golden relief.
   - What will I do with all this? - Bech asked Daha.
   She shrugged her shoulders:
   - Lu Tin said, that all this was agreed with you.
   - Yes, he said something about it. And I agreed. But now I see, that I need but a small portion of all this.
   - Wait, prince, - Dahawos calmed him - Malichipkh said, that you want me to live here in this palace, by your side. Is that so?
   Dabech nodded.
   - Is that so? I asked you a question! - Dahawos was reluctant to get a clear answer.
   - Yes, that is true. I want that very much. Really.
   - Then we will need everything the merchant sent you.
   - I thought, that the Bhutan monks taught you to be satisfied with the rough cloth and a phial of rice.
   - Who told you that I gave a monk's pledge for the rest of my life? I am fed up with the smoky saklia, monastery, monastic cells.
   - Then accept all, with what these rooms are full of. Accept and manage.
   - What must I do in the future? What solemn sacrifice I must offer?
   - Nothing exceptional. You will marry the worthiest of worthy; you will bear a son, who will be named the heir of the Amysh family name. Then you will go to the Russian Czar and persuade him to stop the war in the Caucasus.
   - Don't be ridiculous, Bech! What Kabardin prince will disown his son, giving him the name of the strange clan? How will I find a husband for myself, living in the caves beside you? And how I, a Kabardin girl, will get an audience of the sovereign of the great country? What will I tell him to persuade to stop warring our auls?
   - Your laughter is superficial - the voice of the prince was sure - everything will be as I said. Your husband will be of the noble family. He will agree with our conditions. What concerns the Russian Czar... You will work much to prepare for that mission. Very much. When we will be sure you are ready to handle that important mission, you will depart to Petersburg.
   - As you wish, Bech. I will do as you say. When will I move to your palace?
   - Now.
   That was the beginning of a new life for Dabech, his nephew and numerous teachers and servants. Dahawos surprised the prince with her activity. Gradually he retired from the palace management, transferring it to Dahawos. Daha was probing into every minutest detail. The lessons of Kathy Zass came handy. She realized, that in the palace, where expensive and exquisite articles were aplenty, there is a shortage of the supplies of the first necessity: salt, flour, sugar, candles... All that was rectified urgently. Daha managed to establish ties with the suppliers of fresh meat, poultry, game and eggs. A milliner from Tiflis, teachers from Armavir, Rostov, Stavropol, Pyatigorsk were fetched, as well as an astrologist from Petersburg.
   - Do not forget your lessons, being busy with all these management problems- Bech reminded Daha - You must excel all the Petersburg fashionable beauties, outdo them in many ways. Unless you do that, how will you impress the Russian Czar?
   First Daha did not pay any attention to the concubines Lu Tin sent to Bech. They were accommodated in the distant rooms and forgotten. But then she knew, that Bech never visited them. Once, meeting sad-eyed oriental beauties in the palace, she changed her mind. She began to invite them to their meals and ordered the woman milliner to dress them as they desired. She explained it to the surprised prince:
   - Our nobility obliges us!
   - For people as lonely as we are, the humane steps are a welcome sound - Bech answered.
   That very evening at the dinner the prince presented the Chinese and the Persian, who did not become his lovers, two color enamel brooches on long golden chains.
   - To remember Kabarda - he said. - Soon I will make you free and will send you where you wish. I want you to have good remembrances of our aul.
   Daha's most favorite place in the palace was the lake and the great oak on it's far bank. The water of the lake was so cold that the waterfowl did not sleep at night, swaying on the waves. Even the shivering moon did not dare to hide in that water. Every morning Daha came out on the lake shore, dropped her gown and stood in the morning sun, stretching her young and luscious body. Her arms, shoulders and breasts soaked in the sun as the rocks and the lake and the old oak soaked. She jumped into the water and swam from one side of the lake to the other. If Dahawos gradually got used to the life in the caves, the lake and the oak were the reason.
   - Here, in this stone grandeur, - she said to Dabech once - I feel myself as a ship, wrecked on the shore.
   - I myself think sometime, that these caves became cocoons, in which we are cemented forever - replied the prince.
   Now she was sitting in the oak's shadow. Her clothes were left on the other side. She was reluctant to let the day go.
   "Stay a little more, - she asked. And the day stayed. The sun was shining long. Daha was happy and that joy made her sing. The old oak seemed to touch the clouds with its curly head.
   "The winds are rustling its leaves - the princess reflected - the thunders roll over, but it is growing and growing. Only this oak and Dabech understand me. Them and my lake, too".
   Suddenly she remembered the Byron's poem "Infidel". She began declamation of an extract from that poem, which she remembered by heart from the first to the last line.
   "One can not become jeguako"* - Pago said to her once.
   "Where do they come from, then?" - she asked.
   "They are sent by the Gods" - he replied.
   "How true, - she thought. - Is not that Byron sent to us by Gods?"
   Daha remembered Kathy Zass and Polunin more often, than the others. And Jelihstan. She pitied all those who perished in Taubiy aul, but Jelihstan more. She wanted to compose a song about them, but could not. The words of the song came to her lips, but something did not form, did not come out. She was hearing that tune from the beginning to the end when she was going to sleep, but in the morning it evaded her. It evaded her every time until she turned in for the night.
   The sun at last surrendered and began to get cool, moving to the sunset. The geese on the lakeshore covered their legs with the clothes of feather.
   "They are cold."- Daha pitied the birds. She threw herself in the water and swam to the place her clothes were.
   She met with Dabech every day, if the prince was not with his koop raiding. During those encounters the prince told her many interesting stories about the Amysh aul and Amysh clan. She learned, that when the first preachers of Islam came to their village, Amysh was still alive. The old prince ordered to accept the newcomers, as the guests of honor:
   - The God is one - said the prince - Let them tell us about their messenger".
   The strangers were accepted and treated to the food they picked according to canons of their religion. The youth laughed secretively at the ceremonies, which went with the prayers of the new prophet. But their elders scolded them and respected the Moslems. The aulers were not interested in the new religion too much, though they heard, that the neighboring villages turned Moslem and worshipped Mohammed. To tell the truth, the Amysh aulers were not very keen in observation Christian rites too, being more attracted by the Pagan. Later, when Islam wins more supporters, the aul dwellers will worship great Tkha, Aus Gerg, calling their Marissa, or Mariam, the Mother of God.
   - Who is she? - Dahawos asked.
   - The mother of Aus Gerg - Bech answered.- Once a rose grew on a plain stone.
   Near that rose her son Issa, Jesus, let him be virtuous and blessed, as the righteous say, was immaculately conceived. And then one big tear dropped from the Virgin Mariam's eye, signifying all the tears of the innocent babies. That tear had the taste of milk, of humid breeze and bitterness of human grief. Mariam is also the protector of bees, which bring honey to the people. Once - Dabech continued - the thunderbolt killed all the bees...
   - But we have lots of apiaries in our aul!
   - You did not listen my story to the end. So, when the thunder killed all the bees, Issa's mother, Marissa, hid one bee in the sleeve of her dress. Multitudes of bees descended from that one. When the fall begins, people treat each other to honey and the drinks, made of it. That is Marissa's holiday. You will revive our family sometime as Marissa did.
   - Will there be a holiday in my name - Daha rejoiced - with people giving their honey to their neighbors?
   Bech hurried to stop her imagination:
   - No, no! Do not compare yourself to Mariam. She is the mother of one of the prophets, while you will just revive one dying out clan.
   - But will there be at least a holiday in my name? - Dahawos insisted.
   - I do not know about a holiday. But they will compose a song about you for sure.
   - Why people of our creed, or rather, of what left from that creed, are making a sign of cross? - Daha asked.
   The prince stared at a candle flame for a long tome. So long, that the girl thought: "he did not hear my question".
   But Dabech turned to her:
   - I will narrate this story as our shogen told us. Not that shogen we have in the village now, but the one who lived in the times of my grandfather Amysh.
   - I am listening.
   - It happened so, that one of the great prophets was to be killed when he bathed in the palace pool. But the angels appeared and gave him a sign to leave the palace immediately. The prophet touched his head, indicating, that his head will not go through the narrow window. Angels notified him not to bother about it. Then the prophet indicated his belly and shoulders. And again the angels have shown him, that the window would be wide enough. He was saved, and the shogen said, that it was the origin of the sign of cross. May be it is not true, but the shogen told us that story.
   Gradually Dahawos was getting used to the palatial luxury of the caves. Her recent austere life at the Bhutan monasteries, Strong Trench Fort with its soldierly life, modest Amysh saklias were left behind. Now she lived in Oriental splendor mixed with high European style.
   "Lu Tin has done his job well, no doubt - Daha thought. - He managed to create a real palace".
   She was especially glad to find excellent books.
   "These are the treasures much more valuable, than those, which are stored in the chests of my tutor" - the princess thought.
   Leather bound and richly embossed, some with ebony covers... But that was not essential. Those books contained the great thoughts of the poets, philosophers, theologians... Daha spent her time in one of the three libraries of the caves.
   - You must not read so much - Bech reproached her.
   - But you will not allow me to spend my time riding, firing or fencing.
   - I did not forbid it completely. Just do not overdo it.
   Using this concession, Dahawos took to her martial games, forgetting the books sometimes. The teachers praised Daha. She was especially good at languages - French, English, Russian. She did not like the Latin.
   - A dead language.
   But the old Jew from Pyatigorsk, Moisei Moiseyevich, who was brought to teach her the basics of the great language, objected:
   - How that language may be called a dead language, if all the world studies it? And people find more and more charm in it. The doctors can't make a tiniest step without it!
   After that Daha, beginning her Latin lessons, said:
   - Let's begin with our tiniest step! - and laughed herself at her own joke, as if hearing it for the first time.
   The princess liked to travel in her imagination with the geographical maps and atlases. The oceans, seas, gulfs...The islands, kingdoms, wild jungles...She felt the smell of the desert and the gusts of the sea wind. As if she were there, in the oases or on the azure shores.
   - How great is this world! - Daha adored.
   - But it is so small in the Universe - the teacher of geography objected.
   The acquaintance with the world of fashion made her laugh:
   - What a nonsense! Human being needs so little!
   True, all her dress usually consisted of a long blue, yellow or red shirt. Under that shirt the outlines of a firm beautiful body could be guessed. But the milliner from Tiflis was sure:
   - The time will come, when all the corners of this palace will be filled with hats and dresses! - she said to Dabech.
   Dabech laughed:
   - The sooner, the better. The clothes she is wearing now! What a shame!
   But descending to the aul, Daha put on strictly traditional national dress, winning approval of the aulers.
   The princess was fond of the secret lake at the caves and of the old oak at its side. Now she was there, chasing away all the thoughts. She just said there and enjoyed the beauty of the landscape. The lake water was dark and quiet. But when the moon crept from the cloud and illuminated the smooth surface with the lemon hue, everything turned into fairy tale. The stars, large and bright, reflected in the water mirror, imploring to pet them with the hands, not with eyes only. It was so quiet and charmingly beautiful, that Daha was afraid to breath deeply, unwilling to dispel the magic. At that moment a swan, dosing among the reflected stars, rocked them, and the stars moldered in the ripples. When the water quieted they returned to their places.
   Then she remembered the days she spent with Kathy on the banks of Kuban River. Sometimes they preferred to sit silently. Sometimes they were distressed by the unwanted thoughts or because the people they would like to see were far away. Sometimes they laughed so gaily, that everyone around them joined in their laughter. How they gamboled and frolicked!
   "The youth! - Daha thought. - Impossible to predict your actions, foretell them or measure." - she thought in an adult way, forgetting, that she is but twenty years old.
   Was she remembering Polunin? Yes, sure. Because he was her first love. Those reflections made her catch her breath. Then she, overcoming herself, thought about faraway places. But more often, dropping her colored shirt on the shore, dived into the cold water.
   The days, weeks and months passed that way. It seemed, that all the rivers and waterfalls join the stream of her beauty. Dabech indulged all her whims, though they were numerous. She liked to shoot at targets and to fence. Daha was not satisfied by competition with the Turkmen warriors and Amysh djigits. She challenged Dabech. Loosing every time, she asked for one more chance. Her tutor could yield to her, but she would notice that. More, it would be violating the traditions of atalyk upbringing. Bech considered himself to be something like atalyk to his nephew. That is why he said once:
   - I will get you a teacher, who would not yield to me in marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat.
   Dahawos laughed:
   - Is there such a man in existence?
   - We will see, we will see.
   So one day two mounted men approached the caves.
   Bech was strict:
   - Go dress yourself properly! Or your teacher will be petting you under that dress with his eyes instead of training you the martial arts.
   Daha did not take offence. What was the use? She went to her milliner while Bech welcomed his guests.
   - A good day to you! - the host greeted new arrivals.
   - Many good days to you, ziuskhan! - was the answer.
   Now three men were sitting at a big table in the Red Hall. The rooms of the hall were draped with the maroon silk, soft furniture - the sofas and the armchairs were upholstered with red velvet. Even writing desks and dressers were of rosewood. Numerous baccarat vases reflected in gold-paneled floor-to-ceiling mirrors. The pictures in rich carved frames were real masterpieces, depicting marvelous landscapes. Aromatic roots were burning brightly in the fireplace. The torches in four corners illuminated the room. Unaut girl brought in a low crystal decanter with sherbet and small pear-shaped goblets. The host dismissed her with a gesture of his hand and poured the thick greenish liquor for his guests and himself.
   - I welcome you in my modest dwelling - said the prince in low voice, rising the goblet in a toast and sipping a little. The guests followed suit. Then their conversation turned into a polite small talk.
   At last, Dabech stated his request:
   - I want you to give my pupil several lessons of marksmanship and fencing with shashka.
   - Ziuskhan, - one of the guests named Adygh was surprised - how can we teach in the house, where the host is the best of the Kabardin djigits?
   - Do not exaggerate my abilities - Dabech answered, - since I already taught my pupil what I could. Now it is your turn. Be my guests and render me the service I ask for.
   - We are ready to oblige - the second guest consented - if we will be able to.
   At this moment Dahawos appeared in the hall. Black taffeta of her evening gown was trimmed with sables, the sable muff (hail to the Russians!) completed her attire. Her hair, brushed tightly backwards were fixed with a red taffeta ribbon.
   Her waist was adorably flexible. Golden net of precious beads with diamond droplets was covering her breast. Her ring - a fairy flower of precious stones could not but attract attention of the guests.
   They stood up, welcoming the lady.
   - My nephew, Dahawos - Dabech introduced her. - And continued after a short pause: - My nephew and my pupil.
   - Do you mean, ziuskhan, that she is...
   - Yes, that's exactly what I mean - I want her to become your pupil.
   Adygh did not like Dahawos.
   "A pretty dope! What these pretentious dresses are for, these furs and scarlet ribbons? Why she should master the combat arts?. Is Amysh aul short of real warriors?"
   Being left alone with Soslan in the room, allotted to them, he shared his doubts with his friend. But Soslan objected:
   - What do you know about this girl? She was silent rather than talkative, attentive and complaisant. Is she beautiful? Yes! But is it a flaw? Her dresses? What do we know about the feminine finery?
   Adygh only shrugged his shoulders. He used to trust Soslan's opinions. But now...
   - All right - Adygh said, - tomorrow we will see, what they want from us. Then we will decide, who is right and who is wrong.
   Next morning after breakfast Dabech led his guests to the opened broad verandah. The servants prepared weaponry, mail gloves, masks, resembling the headgear of the European knights at a tournament.
   - Seems you have prepared all this for a reasl tournament, prince?
   Dabech looked around with surprise:
   - With whom? I see nobody here.
   They stood looking at the shashkas, daggers and pistols, when Dahawos appeared.
   - A good day to you! - she greeted her atalyk and the guests.
   - Many good days to you, too!
   The girl was wearing white Chinese closes, designed for hand-to-hand combat: broad short trousers and a robe with a belt. Her hair was covered with a color kerchief.
   - I am ready - she said, addressing to Bech.
   - That is good - he answered.
   Addressing to Adygh and Soslan, he said:
   - We will show you several exercises to demonstrate my pupils' degree of training.
   They put on mail gloves, took their shashkas and stood in position.
   - Attack! - the prince ordered.
   Dahawos attacked him savagely. Dabech was an experienced warrior. Nevertheless it was evident, that he barely managed to beat off her calculated strikes. The guests were watching the duel with astonishment. Even if this tournament was pre-exercised, it was bewildering. The girl shrieked, the prince exhaled deeply. A strike, another strike... Suddenly Daha changed her hand holding gurda with a swift motion, dropped on one knee, and touched the prince's shoulder with her blade. The guests could not suppress a cry of terror, since that strike should inflict a mortal wound to the prince. But the blade was stopped at the very last instant - it was a master's strike!
   - You are dead! - Daha shouted, jumping backwards.
   - I have never seen such a trick before - Soslan was astonished.
   Adygh was looking at the girl with admiration.
   - What do you want me to teach this devil, prince, after the masterstroke I saw?
   - Do not hurry -said Dabech. - Take your shashka and - on your guard!
   Adygh tried to evade the fight, but Bech insisted.
   Again Dahawos attacked her rival with a fury of snow leopard.
   The guest barely managed to defend himself:
   - This is not a game at all! - he cried to Soslan. - She will kill me and disgrace our clan for ever!
   - Try to stay alive - the girl mocked her adversary.
   He dashed forward, making a way for himself, as he did many a time in the real combat, but here the girl stopped his advance with a very complicated sequence of
   manipulations, which ended in the light touch of her gurda to the center of his breast.
   - You are dead, warrior! - she cried.
   Soslan declined the proposal to try his luck outright.
   - No, - he said to the prince, - I will take my chance another time.
   - Tell us, prince, what do you want us to do? - the guests inquired. - You understand, that there is nothing we can do here.
   Dabech did not agree:
   - There is no limit to the perfection, especially in the art of combat.
   Daha, breathing heavily, was looking at Adygh with pride, as if saying: "How did you like me now?"
   Adygh did not try to conceal his emotions. His face lighted at the look of Dahawos. She was investigating the deep of his irises with her stare.
   "He came to me out of my last dream" - she thought before Bech said:
   - Let us shoot a little, and then we return to the shashkas.
   The servants placed five candles at a distance of twenty yards and lit them.
   - Let us check the pistols - the host proposed. But Adygh suddenly stopped him:
   - Wait, prince.
   He took a shashka and went to the burning candles. The girl and her atalyk followed him in silence. Soslan smiled. He knew that trick of Adygh, which always astonished and delighted those who witnessed it. Adygh stood for an instant motionless at the line of candles. Suddenly gurda flashed five times in his hand. The prince and the princess were looking at the candles, as if they did not understand what happened. Soslan went to the candles and lifted them one by one. They were cut in two, but were standing erect with flame flickering at their tops.
   - I have never seen anything like that - the prince praised his guest. - And you say that you can't add to my nephew's training!
   - Wait, Bech, - Daha said.
   She put every of the candles right and turned to Adygh:
   - Give me the gurda!
   Adygh obeyed.
   - My turn, - the girl said, and the shashka flashed five times over her head.
   - I do not understand, - said Soslan
   - Nothing to understand - Daha answered. She lifted every candle, which was cut just below the cut done by Adygh.
   Then they shoot at the candle flame. Soslan was the first to extinguish all five with five shots. Dahawos hit four.
   - See - Bech was relieved - there is something to teach her to. I have to leave you now. Continue without me, please.
   The prince, disclosing to Daha the wisdom of living, always understood that he will be successful only if he will respect his pupil. He never reproached or scolded her when she was too slow in her reasoning. He repeated his lesson again and again, whether it was a wise maxim or a fencing exercise.
   What the prince expected of this encounter of the young people with his nephew? Most probably he did not expect them to teach her some new tricks with the saber. He selected Adygh because he considered him to be a good match to Dahawos: he was of a noble princely family, he was handsome and renown for his combat exploits. And more - Pago's son considered him to be a man of honor and honesty.
   "He is a man who will help me to revive our kin" - Dabech thought.
   Left alone, the young people could not find a topic to talk about.
   - Beware of her eyelashes! - whispered Soslan to his friend.
   The unbelievable beauty of the girl could not pass unheeded. It perturbed male conscience. Her scent was intoxicating. His eyes involuntary undressed her. She noticed that and her cheeks became scarlet, like pheasant's blood.
   - Well, can't we find something to talk about - said she abruptly, angry at herself for something.
   - Why should we? - Soslan answered - Take your shashka. I want to try my luck.
   They stood in starting position, waiting. No one wanted to commence. At last Soslan couldn't bear the suspense any more. He dashed at Daha in a fury and was stopped by the tip of the blade.
   - You are killed! - she shouted.
   - Give me one more chance! - Soslan thirsted for revenge.
   This time he won, using all his will and experience.
   - But I think that we lost the main battle - whispered he to his friend.
   In the evening Soslan told to Adygh:
   - You seem to be caught by the lariat of Daha's plaits.
   - Then we must escape from here.
   In the night, when all the inhabitants of the castle were fast asleep, Bech was sitting at the fireplace, reading the Holy Bible. To be more correct, he was not reading, he was keeping the book on his lap. He did not turn a single page. The flame was dying in the hearth. That was to his liking. He did not want the flame to rage. The tongues of flame glimmered, and he added some aromatic roots to the flame, enjoying the peace and quiet. At least he seemed to; but sad thoughts were overcoming his lassitude. Bech was not like those, whose eyes shift from forehead to the back of their head with time. He was not living in past remembrances entirely. He tried to look forward. Now his head and heart were full of thoughts about Daha. He was seeking and could not find in his soul a creed in immortality. Last months he was feeling some malaise.
   " It is bad to be sick, - he induced himself - and to die is still worse. But the worst is to die of sickness, leaving nobody behind. Awful. I am an egotist - the prince thought - I have chained Daha to me, depriving her of her soul, of love..."
   Dahawos' hands touched his shoulders.
   -I cannot sleep, Bech.
   He did not shudder, or tremble - he was not caught off his guard; her appearance in the hall at such an hour of the night did not seem strange to him. Putting his cold palm on her fingers, he said:
   - I thought about you.
   It was Daha's turn to show that she was not surprised:
   - I know.
   There was a pause. It was long and tractile, as a spring honey on a May apiary.
   - Daha - Bech said at last - I like Adygh.
   - I like him, too.
   The girl went around the chair prince was sitting in and looked bravely into his eyes.
   - I wanted to say, that only those are happy, who find happiness in their own home.
   - Haven't I fond my happiness beside you? Am I short of anything?
   - You have no family.
   - You are my family.
   - That is different, Daha. I am not immortal. I am already loosing my interest in everything - it means, I am loosing my interest in life.
   - Loosing your interest, you say? Did you think about me? What will I do alone in these caves? What will I do with gold, books, the chests filled with jewelry? What?
   - We have to be reasonable - said Bech quietly.
   - What your reason told you when you sat here without me? Do you want to extinguish the lamp of your day? I will not allow you to do that!
   - If you had such power... It is possible to fear the death or not to. It will come at the appointed hour anyway.
   - The living must not dare to think of death. Tkha forbids.
   - I am not thinking about it. I just say, that it is silly to fear the inevitable.
   - Why did you spoil my mood? I will not be able to sleep now.
   - I did not want to. It was you who led our talk to this path overgrown with bushes. So we lost our way. I wanted to talk about Adygh. You know him just for a number of days, but I study him for a long time. His appearance here is not accidental.
   Bech threw several twigs of dry wood into the fire. The flames flashed up brightly, illuminating their faces.
   - Why do you talk about Adygh? - asked Daha in a very low voice.
   - He is not indifferent to you.
   - So what of it? I am not indifferent to our old oak, too. And to the lake, and to the sky, strewn by stars...
   - This is different. To marry a man you love is a greatest happiness.
   - Bech, dear! Do you want me to propose to Adygh?
   - No need to do that. Look into his eyes. They will disclose you everything.
   - What is so special you noticed in his eyes?
   - Love. And marriage follows love, like smoke follows the flame.
   - But he worships Allah, not Christ. And... I do not know him at all.
   - That is nothing. In such a case there is only one God - love. The feeling, which conquers all the world. It's impossible to resist the power of love.
   - How do you know that, Bech?
   - Do you really think, that I have nothing but war, revenge and evil in my heart? No. I dared to enjoy the delicious flowers of love, too. Worshiping them, I sometimes left my shashka in its scabbard for days, weeks, months. My loyal horse was getting bored at his hitching post.
   - Have you had a lover after Kateh?
   - I had women... But Kateh is the only one in my life. My pain, my unforgettable sunny joy, existing not only outside, but inside me too.
   - She loved you not less. May be even more recklessly.
   Bech smiled quietly:
   - I is impossible to love more, than I did. - Then, in a low and somewhat guilty voice he said: - Our shogen asked me to change the great bell on the tower of our church - it cracked.
   - What it has in common with our talk?
   - Shogen said, that it is difficult to see the crack. Nearly impossible. It is defined only at the time of tocsin or annunciation.
   - Do the bell in your soul constantly ring tocsin?
   - There is a crack in my soul. Of course I will change the bell. I have sent a man to Rostov already. But who will mend my soul?
   - Don't. - Daha said. - I have seen your love dying in torture. Each of you acted a certain part in that tragedy.
   - No, - the prince objected - it was played without us.
   - Who did?
   - The God, may be, or the people? I know one thing for certain - we must bury our dead.
   Dahawos hid her face in her palms:
   - But you are still alive! Both of you!
   - It only seems to you. We died in the Taubiyan aul. Zass murdered us.
   - Why did you exterminate whole aul, leaving general Shaitan alive?
   - Because he is Kateh's father.
   - Have you any hopes?
   - None. Memory only. That gift is God-given, to see red-sided ripe apples in winter.
   - You live, listening to echo, which is always delayed.
   - That is not echo for me. It is my destiny.
   Then Daha said to her tutor:
   - We are living in order to eat, to sleep and to love. - She meant something special with the last word.
   The prince was silent, reviving the fire in the hearse with ornamental cast-iron tongs. Dahawos decided, that he did not hear her, engrossed in his own thoughts.
   - To eat, sleep and love - she repeated.
   The prince released the tongs and the dull thud of iron against the marble of the floor did not reverberate, but moaned and died out.
   - You said to eat and to sleep, did not you? - Dabech turned to the girl sharply. - How we differ from the bull, then? - His eyes drilled into his alumnae. Bech, who was always good and kind to Dahawos, whipped her with his words now:
   - No one in this word, girlie, is able to fathom the meaning of existence in his short lifetime. Neither a sage, nor an astrologer. Every human strives to uncover that mystery for himself. The horse of our imagination races forward, and the less of the way is left ahead, the further that solution is. Those who will understand, that this race is useless, will try to turn the horse backwards, but behind is the precipice of years. That is the way of no return.
   - What is our life, then? - cried Dahawos - Answer me! You know the answer! You know everything!
   Bech's stare was blank. He drooped, became smaller, loosing his grandeur. Now he was not that mighty Dabech, whose name made the mountains and people tremble. He made a circle in the air with his hand.
   - That is what our life is. But one has to complete that circle honestly. All the way.
   When their emotions subsided, the girl asked:
   - Why should I marry?
   Bech looked into her eyes:
   - They asked an apple tree: "Why the willow is so beautiful?" - "Because it is fruitless" - the apple tree answered. Do you get me?
   - Yes, - the girl whispered.
   The guests did not depart, as they have decided at first. In the night, when the stars were shooting to the earth as if star hunters ambushed them and threw down, Adygh went out to the water spring, kneeled and quenched his thirst with his scorched lips. His heart returned to the usual beat. When Adygh returned to their room, Soslan was waiting for him:
   - Each man who is in love thinks, that the whole Universe smells sweet of his beloved's tresses fragrance, and that the reflection of her eyes illuminates the world.
   - Isn't it true?
  
   ...Martial arts occupied certain hours in the Dahawos' timetable. The other lessons were: geography, music, English, French, Russian... Two friends tried to use the allotted time to advantage, training the girl to shoot from different positions, to load and unload a rifle or a pistol rapidly, to master the most filigree tricks with a shashka and a dagger... Soslan taught her to use gurda as a belt around her waist, and Adygh was training her a special trick - how to "surrender" your gurda to the "victor'. For this it was necessary to take the tip of the blade between big and index fingers and then, with a swift motion, swing the flexible blade so, that the handle bent back to the owner of the weapon. It was a difficult trick.
   - This may come handy only once in a lifetime, but you have to prepare for that moment all your life.
   - What for? - the girl asked.
   - Anything may happen in a combat.
   - Surrender my weapon to the enemy?
   - To pretend that you surrender. Then you do this movement - and your shashka is in your hand again.
   He repeated his trick.
   - What for?
   - What do you mean - "what for?" The use of the weapon in combat is to kill.
   What I am teaching you now will help you to overcome your enemy. The last revenge.
   The evenings, when they were resting from their lessons and training sessions, they spent together, drinking tea or coffee, engaged in small talk. Bech usually did not participate in these tea parties. He did not want to interfere on their leisure, most probably. Daha's heart was more and more accustomed to inspire love. She managed to tame even wild doves. She flew into the heart of Adygh as those birds do, to have a respite. After taking her rest she tried to fly away, but could not. One evening they were drinking coffee, made by the Lu Tin's cook. The thick drink was invigorating. Dry aloe and roots of fragrant grasses were smoldering in the fireplace. They were talking about the war.
   - Amysh, Pago, Arykshoo and my tutor Dabech are supporters of rapprochement with Russia - said the girl. - Not even rapprochement only - they consider Kabarda a part of that country.
   Adygh was against that point of view.
   - What rapprochement you are talking about, when Russian troops are occupying our territories? - he bemoaned. - How can we develop friendly relations, basing on cannons and bayonets? What about their fortresses on the seashore and the banks of Psyzh*... The damasc steel blade may be fenced off by another damasc blade. I have a rule: He who threatens me with a weapon must bleed first.
   - Russia is not our foe. - Daha tried to object.- The Russian Czar promised to preserve our privileges and our traditions, to alleviate taxes.
   - Can't we preserve our privileges and traditions without the Russian Czar? - Adygh was surprised. - Why should we pay taxes to anyone?
   - This war rumbles on for so many years because of people like you! - the princess was infuriated.
   - Do not say so - asked Adygh in a low voice. - We are being driven away from our native places by entire auls. Sorrowful caravans depart to the hateful Turkey, seeking freedom. And you are speaking of the Russian Czar's kindness. The evil is always like a dagger blade. That's why it inflicts wounds. You...Look at yourself... Why do you master the martial arts? Why do you fence with shashka better than any warrior, why do you shoot and ride horses contending the wind? Which enemy you are training to fight? Russians, aren't you?
   - No! - the princes' answer was resolute.
   Seeing, that their discussion is getting stale, and that the hostess is losing her temper, Soslan interfered:
   - Let us leave the war to the Czar and Vali. They are the only ones who have the right to rule good or bad. Sing us some Russian romance songs. They are so touching.
   Daha did not want to sing, but neither dared to offend her guest. She took the guitar and tuned it. Song after song about love sounded in the hall. All romantic songs narrate about that feeling. Daha had a low and velvety voice.
   -"I do not wish to change my liberty for quiet humility" - she sang, and the fine melody continued as an infinite thread, getting lost under the arched ceilings of the cave .
   "There is never a happy love" - Adygh thought. - It is always upsetting one's heart.
   Daha was singing about the whirlpools of maiden eyes: about a stare cold as an ice-hole on the snow-covered river; about love, which bites her lips, offended. Her eyes were shining in the semidarkness of the cave like two candles. At last she put the guitar off.
   - This is how the Russians love - she said - and you say...
   - I never scolded Russians. I blamed the war and the Czar.
   - Oh, no! - Soslan interfered - Not again!
   The girl prepared to go:
   - I have to visit my milliner yet. To be liked by you, I have to dress good. In my wardrobe I follow all the whims of fashion.
   - Have you any doubts that we like you? - Soslan was surprised.
   When she was leaving the hall, Adygh implored with his eyes: "Look back!"
   She felt it and looked around.
   - Tell me what you desire? - he exclaimed.
   - To become your eyelash! - she answered, exiting.
   - We arrived! Unsaddle your horse! - Soslan said.
   Dahawos excited Adygh. Her lips were silent, but her eyes said "yes!" Now was her heart's turn. Dahawos in her room approached the icons and prayed as she could, addressing Virgin Mary for help. When after a long prayer she turned in she thought: "What if love is only a cloud? What if it is nonexistent?"
   Her emotions exhausted her. But the thoughts about him penetrated her dream: she bathed Adygh in her love, magnificent as a flame. "Marissa! - she prayed -Open his eyes!"
   Daha went again to sleep with the hope to see her beloved, holding fear of separation in each hand.
   Adygh in the morning felt refreshed, as if he had bathed his soul in the raindrops. Many women comforted him to the best of their ability in the past. But they did not smell of mountain meadow and fresh wind like Dahawos did. He tried by concentration of his will to imagine Dahawos as one of those women, but failed. All the day he longed to meet her.
   - Why languish? - Soslan comforted him - the time will come for our lesson, and she will come to shoot and wage her shashka. Then you will meet.
   But the pupil did not appear at the appointed hour. Daha was sitting at the lake. There, far away, high above the peaks, the sky mixed violet hues; mountain forest was dressed in purple and orange attire. here, beside her, the carpet of multicolored leaves induced joy and surprise. The flock of geese were cutting the blue of the sky with their wings.
   "Is it possible to fly away from such a beauty?" - Dahawos thought.
   As if conforming her thoughts, the geese cried plaintively.
   The time of Vaguabash* constellation passed and the migrant birds were flying south.
   "What would Kathy say about my feeling? - the princess thought. - Where Polunin is now?"
  
   ______________________
   *Vaguabash constellation - the Giraffe constellation
   Her thoughts carried her to the days she spent in the Trench Fort. How happy and how sad they were! She smiled, remembering one episode.
   Grigori Hristoforovich was visited by Abadzekh uzdens. As he did often before, he played a practical joke on them. When he organized his expeditions, he took with him several officers and men, who had an inclination for painting. They painted landscapes and sometimes the villages they stayed in.
   - Do you want me to show you the aul of petty officer Misarbiy? - Zass asked the uzdens.
   - How can you? - uzdens were mistrustful.
   - I sure can! Come with me, will you? - And he led his guests into the room, where the picture of that aul was mounted behind a glass partition.
   Abadzekhs one by one approached the picture, wondering at the accuracy of all details. They did not know, that behind the partition a translator was hiding. His task was to answer all the questions, which general Zass was putting. Zass asked uzdens:
   - You said that Misarbiy is in the aul now?
   - Yes, he is home - they answered.
   - We will check now whether it is true or not - said the general. Addressing to the picture he asked loudly:
   - Is Misarbiy at his home?
   The voice from behind the picture answered:
   - Misarbiy is absent. He has gone to participate in wedding celebrations to the neighboring aul ( that was the scouts information).
   Abadzekhs were bewildered. Jumping from their sears, they hurried away from Zass. Zass was laughing aloud. Daha came up to him:
   - It is not good, Grigori Hristoforovich, to deride highlanders' simplicity and trustfulness. They believe you, and you fool them
   - Well, they are free not to get fooled! - he continued to laugh.
   Daha tried to catch up the Abadzekhs. They were already in their saddles. The princess tried to explain them the gist of the matter, but they rode away, shouting "Shaitan! Shaitan!"
   Here, at the lake, Adygh found Daha. The heart in love has a sharp sight. Daha was not surprised when she saw him.
   - The rich do not know the price of a generous gift - he said for a greeting.
   - What are you talking about?
   - I am speaking about myself. Yesterday I did not know yet, what is a price of every minute at your side. But when you did not appear for your lesson, I became poorer, then a mendicant oriental dervish, which trudges along a dusty road. Where do I go? What for?
   - Sit down here - she asked. - If you are talking about the alms-beseeching dervish, I will continue the Arabic theme. They say in the East: "The rose of the lovers' meeting will bloom, shaking off the thorns of waiting".
   - Let it be so, - Adygh said, sitting beside her.
   - I thought first, -Daha said - that your emotions, thrown into the fire, would not burn, but smolder.
   - That smoldering fire may warm you up, too.
   - Not enough for me. I do not want to warm my hands. I want to warm my heart.
   - Throw the dump brushwood into the fire. It's smoke both warms up and makes you cry. That is love.
   - If you really think so, you better go - she said. - You are like a hearth, which does not warm.
   - I do not think like that at all. You are speaking both for me and for yourself. Do you want me to build a fortress among those cliffs?...
   The cliffs were very high. They were wrapped into torn clouds. The eagles could not reach their peaks.
   - To hide there from my eyes?
   - To hide you in there.
   - Better build a temple. I will come there to say my prayers. And only there I will kneel.
   - What else do you want?
   - I want your feelings, which resemble the full moon now, never thin out to become a crescent.
   He smiled, because he liked what he has heard.
   - It is possible to love a woman who hates you. I do not see hatred in your eyes. It means...
   - It means what?
   - My love will become your loyal servant.
   Adygh was intoxicated by her smell. But he knew, that Dahawos was too pure to sin and repent.
   - Oh, Mariam, help us - he addressed to the prophet Issa's Mother.
   The cranes were flying high and crying. The rays of the sunset were breaking cranes' wings. Daha looked at the cranes and reminiscences were floating to her shore, swishing at her legs. She remembered Polunin. "These birds are flying to the south from his country." And an instant later: "How different they are - Polunin and Adygh. Absolutely different..."
   Her eyelashes trembled and opened wide. She guessed so much kindness in Adygh, that it was enough to make the field flowers at the neighboring meadow blossom. She opened her hands wide, as if she wanted to embrace not him alone, but the whole world. The wings of sensuality lifted them to the clouds of love, lit by the setting sun. Now even the giant mountains seemed small without Adygh to her.
   The other day they had the horsemanship lessons. Daha came from the geographic study, where she with her teacher were travelling in India.
   - How could we tolerate separation for this whole eternity? - she asked Adygh.
   - Don't be displeased. That was the night that separated us. The night is to blame.
   Bzhe, seeing her mistress, neighed joyously and tried to touch her face with her soft lips. Daha stroked her pet's neck, whispering tender words.
   Soslan demonstrated several very complicated manipulations of the dressage to her.
   - Your turn to try.
   - Dear brother - Daha addressed to her teacher - may not we relax today, see the herds, ride in the blooming meadow?
   - One Suphian master was asked, - Soslan replied: - "What the teacher should be? Must he be tempered in scholarly subjects and do miracles or something more?" The Teacher replied: "People think, that the tutor must do all you mentioned and much more. But they are wrong. There is only one requirement to a real mentor: he must have everything his pupil requires". Now you require a riding promenade. Promenade it will be!
   During their ride Dahawos told to Adygh:
   - I want neither our hearts grow cold, nor ourselves tire of one another.
  
  
   That day Adygh came to Dabech.
   - The prince, - he said - I do not want to change gold for copper coins.
   - Don't - the prince answered simply. - That change is not equivalent. Why have you to make a mistake if you know, that you are loosing much, acquiring nothing?
   - Then help me.
   - I am ready to. You agreed to train my nephew, when I asked you.
   - My horse is tied to her hitching post.
   - Have you come to ask for Dahawos' hand? Many a man dream about it, but they are not as daring as you are.
   - Prince, what people consider their destiny is only a presumption. We try to guess what will happen or not happen. But the destiny consists of events that already happened. The reality is that I fell in love with her. Shall I send matchmakers or not?
   - Listen to one parable - Dabech replied - my father told it to me, and his father narrated it to him. Here it is: " A rich youth came to a dervish in a bazaar. Putting a golden coin into his alms cup, he said:
   - I need your advice.
   - Ask me - said the dervish.
   - I like one girl. And I don't know what to do now - should I marry her or not?.
   - Do not marry her.
   - But why?
   - Because if you really wanted to marry her, you would not ask me that question".
   - Excuse me, prince. You are not only a warrior, but a sage also.
   - This wisdom is not mine. It's neither Amysh's, nor Pago's. It was disclosed to the world by sophists. Remember, that any reasonable wedlock is a blessing. Unreasonable marriage is a temporary happiness. All the others - plain life. Prior to my positive answer, swear to me by the fire, water and air, that your first son will adopt the name of our clan. I cannot depart from this life, leaving the Amysh's kin without the descendant.
   - I would prefer to swear by the earth - said the youth in a low voice. - But permit me to consult my elders first. They will understand you, I am sure.
   Bech nodded:
   - If there will be no earth, if we will not ask our elders' advice, what is the use of all the rest?
   There was one more obstacle for the young lovers to surmount. Adygh's confession was Islam. It was natural, since all Kabarda was worshipping Mohammed except Amysh's aul, which remained Christian due to prince's influence and power. Adygh, as most of his compatriots was not following his confession with excessive alacrity, same as his ancestors did not break their foreheads in their prayers to Christ. Deep in their hearts they worshipped the great Tkha. But dozens of mosques were already built in Kabarda. Kadis, mollas and imams performed the rites zealously, teaching the righteous. Their alacrity was incomparable with the carelessness of the Christian missionaries, who yielded command positions in the religious influence without much resistance.
   - The God is one - Dabech stated.
   Adygh consented, reminding him about the prophets of Allah.
   The prince cited more solid arguments:
   - Issa, your prophet, married Coptic woman. Parents of Mary, his spouse, were Christians. When they asked Allah, whether Issa should insist that Mary must adopt Islam, Allah said: "There is no constraint in religion".
   But Bech still was at a loss. He did not know, what he should do to marry Dahawos to Adygh. The first would not agree to apostasy from Christ and Holy Virgin, and Adygh would not betray the Holy Koran for anything in the world.
   "What shall I do? What is the way out?"
   The village sage, Jamada, found that way.
   - There is an ancient Adyghe custom to legalize the wedlock. We must simply follow that custom - he said. - According that ancient tradition, the confessions of the bride and bridegroom have no relation to the marriage. Children, born of such a wedlock will not be zineh* and will have all the legal rights of inheritance of their kin.
   The act was really as simple, as the succession of morning after night.
   Relatives of the bride and the bridegroom, their friends and the most respected aul representatives gathered at the bride's house. They surrounded the young people to be wed and put on their headdress. The senior of that congregation joined the hands of the bride and the bridegroom, announcing them to be husband and wife. The feast concluded that simple ceremony.
   They all agreed to that.
   - But this wedding ceremony will not be regaled by music and dancing, as is usual, because the winds of time did not disperse the clouds of our mourning.
   After that Dabech took his koop and Turkmen on a raid:
   - A farewell Caucasian journey - he joked.
   - Don't, prince! Do not cross Kuban - Daha begged him, understanding that her request will be neglected. But still repeated: - Don't go raiding...
   On the eve of that day she saw the family ring in her dream. The ring was on the strange hand. She couldn't say whose hand was that. The stone of the ring had a bloody hue. In her dream she also begged a man not to go. But the man was not Bech. It was Polunin, whom she asked:
   "Do not go today!" The colonel laughed aloud, kissed her parted lips, jumped on his black stallion and rode away. "What that could mean?" -
   Daha thought, waking up.
   _________________
   zineh* - born out of wedlock, a bastard
   Hearing about Dabech's decision, she implored him to cancel his raid. He also laughed and pressing her to his breast, answered:
   - What can happen to me? They can kill me, true. But to be dead one has to die first.
   Showing her his amulet, that was presented to him by yesaul Hivin, he explained:
   - I do not fear death till this is with me.
   - Don't say so! Fear the God's ire!
   But Bech did not hear her. He remembered, that after the battle in Taubiy aul was over, he asked himself: "How did it happen, that no one bullet hit me. Nor had I any wound cut by a blade. Wasn't it a wonder? I should be the first to be killed." At that moment his hand involuntary went to his breast, where the amulet was. - "Oh, that is the force of the charm! My friend's mother made it! Why I did not think of it? If I gave it to Jelihstan prior to this battle, he would be alive now in my stead."
   This thought pursued him constantly. Dahawos guessed his thoughts.
   - Do not blame yourself - she said. - It's the God's will.
   - May be you are right - Bech answered. -I know, that the God will not change what happened in the past.
   When her uncle departed, she was sitting on the lake shore and thinking:
   "What is the use of those raids? Neither Bech, nor his retinue need them any more. But they cannot live without them. They have to risk, they are eager to commit manly feats, they want to get the loot. They thirst all this and they thirst blood, to be honest - the girl thought. - That is the way of life. The nomad's God is a nomad, merchants have a merchant God. Our God is a warrior.
   The clouds, tearing off from the cold rocks, were floating to the valleys. The air of the gentle morning touched her face tenderly. The bee was cutting air by her honey wings. Dahawos asked the bird, floating high in the sky: "Carry me to the land of Happiness! - and asked herself:
   - "Where is that land?"
   She remembered Trench Fort. Colonel Polunin asked her to dance a waltz with him, but she declined his invitation on a whim.
   - But you have promised me - Mikhail Mikhailovich said.
   - Adam promised not to eat prohibited fruits in the Garden of Eden - she answered then - You know what has happened!
   Daha smiled to that remembrance.
   - My heart embraces you - Polunin said that evening.
   "How the heart may embrace anybody" - she wondered.
   "How silly I was!" - thought Daha, with her cheeks burning.
   Now, becoming Adygh's bride, she was feeling guilty. "How can I marry? How can I? What if Polunin is still thinking about me, waiting for me?" - But then she changed her mind: - "He would find me if he were thinking about me, or would convey a couple of words."
   Daha caught herself thinking in Russian. It happened every time she thought about Mikhail Mikhailovich, or Kathy, or about her life in Trench Fort. She thought in Kabardin about Adygh, though. The time that passed without him seemed interminable to Daha.
   "The time came - she thought, - when in my life the sun and the moon began to hurry each other".
   After one of his trips Adygh brought her a ring with a great sapphire.
   - This is your stone.
   - Why did you say so?
   - It is not my decision. It is your destiny. You were born under the sign of Aquarius. The astrologers say, that sapphire is your protector. The king Solomon's scepter was adorned with such a stone, emitting six rays. These rays had a magic force.
   - Will my ring also have a magic force? - the girl was curious.
   - I do not know. But the people I bought this ring from told me, that sapphire, properly cut, has the quality of starry structure, called asterism. The light is reflected in the optical axis of the crystal, forming a star with six rays, parallel to the six sides of the stone.
   - Did the salesman tell you all this?
   - He was not a simple salesman. He was an astrologer.
   - Is that so! - Daha laughed. - No wonder, that I thought: "Where from our Kabardins, living high in their mountains, have such profound knowledge of precious stones?"
   Adygh did not take offence at his lover's words.
   - More than that, - he continued - sapphire protects from envy, attracts God's blessings and favorable relation of the surrounding people.
   - I promise never to take it off. Never!
   The princess often repeated the words she has read in one book: "To be happy in love, you have not to be blind. Just close your eyes sometimes".
   And she did so. Not sometimes, but often. She lived, she loved, she looked at this world either with squinted eyes, as if looking at the sun, or with eyes wide opened, like the gates of the bridegroom at the wedding celebration.
   Adygh said once:
   - You are not a woman. You are a chamois which turned into a beauty.
   She liked these words. Is there a woman in the world who wouldn't? But to like it one must know what a graceful animal chamois are, descending mountain paths from the cloud-covered peaks to the valleys below to surprise the people with their unearthly beauty. Dahawos knew it and that is why she priced his compliment high.
   With the time passing she began to respect Adygh for his profound character. Did she love him? Who could answer that question? Not herself, for sure. Living far from the people and society, to be a part of which she was trained so thoroughly, she was attracted to the first man she met on her way. Yes, he happened to be brave, handsome, clever. But men are not loved for these qualities only. There is something in that exalted feeling which cannot be explained by words. No need to try doing that. Nothing will come out of it. Of course, the girl understood by some unfathomable feeling, that she is being loved by that handsome warrior. She knew, that she is vested with an unusual glamour and dazzling beauty. Especially her eyes, which attracted everybody. Dark blue. Adygh never saw such eyes. Raven hair, cream-colored skin, bee's waist and those eyes...
   That is why the young prince from a distant gorge said to her once:
   - I should be thrown into the fire and burnt for loving you so much.
   - That feeling is not punished by burning - Dabech's alumna shook her head, her hair streaming to her shoulders in torrents. - It is paid for.
   - Paid with what? - Adygh was surprised.
   - With body, with fondling, with desire - whatever a woman has got from the God.
   - Are there any restrictions in that?
   - Oh, what we, the women, will not do to please a man we love!
   - Notwithstanding your common sense?
   - Yes, right you are.
   Now she craved nothing but Adygh's kisses and embraces. She was engulfed in her feeling, as she was long ago with Polunin.
   - I will charm you and take you far away.
   But Adygh shook his head, denying that:
   - First we will celebrate our wedding. After that you may exercise your charms. But you already chained my heart to you.
   The door of Dahawos' desires was wide away.
   "For the second time I offer myself to the men who seemingly adore me, and for the second time I am rejected by them".
   The night, which came after that meeting, did not offer to the palace hostess neither sleep, nor repose. She managed to blank out her brain of unwanted thoughts with the help of the Bhutan magic, when the dawn was near. " Was I talking to Adygh in a right way? Am I not betraying Polunin? What would Kateh say about all this?" But even when she was asleep, the zephyr of the dreams did not refresh her. She dreamt about Bech, Polunin, Jelihstan, Kathy Zass. Every one of them began to tell something to Daha, but no one completed his thought.
   "Is it possible to fill an empty pitcher with the dewdrops?"
   What was the meaning of it all?
   Polunin... he was in a white shirt with the apache collar. With a goblet of Bulgarian wine in his hand. How did she guess, that the wine was of Bulgarian origin? He was offended. He was reproaching her. He sipped the wine and threw the goblet on the floor. But it did not break. The remnants of the wine made an ugly spot on the creamy carpet of the general Zass' study. The spot resembled blood.
   "Don't be jealous or offended - Dahawos told him - I may be unfaithful to you only with mountains, with forests, with the autumn cry of the birds".
   "The lake of our love will not freeze, then?" - the colonel asked.
   "Love, did you say love?"
   "And hope".
   At this moment Polunin vanished and Jelihstan appeared. He was quite alive, though pale.
   "Is it possible to compare the kiss with the music?" - he asked.
   The princess wanted to reply. She wanted to, but did not know the answer.
   Dabech's brother was not in the mood to wait: " Don't you know? - he asked - I know the answer!"
   But he did not reveal his secret to her. Waving his arms, he flew away.
   Dahawos was sitting on her sofa, thinking about those dreams. Jelihstan's question fascinated her.
   "Right! - she decided - Kiss is the music!"
   Dressed lightly she went to the lake. Leaving all her dress on the shore, as usual, she swam to the opposite shore. There she lay under her oak in the rays of the sun, which just appeared from behind the far mountain. She was neither thinking nor regretting anything.
   Her lessons were tedious that day. Mrs. Thompson had to stop her lesson.
   - You are not in the mood to study English today, miss.
   - I promise you to catch up with my lessons - princess assured the straight-laced lady, running to the exit from the study.
   The Czech geographer was not delighted by his pupil today, too. She was inattentive, apathetic and yawned often, covering her mouth with a pretty hand adorned with a great sapphire ring - Adygh's gift. But only Yevdokiya Rodionovna sympathized with her:
   - Love makes one's head go round, and deprives of a good sleep. Go, my czarina, find your beloved.
   - Let him find me if he wishes - the girl retorted.
   She retired to one of the libraries and pretended to read the notes of Margaret of Navarra. But her thoughts were far from France and the captivating queen.
   "In which quiet corner of our palace the insomnia hides in the daytime? If I only knew that, I would catch and strangle it. It torments me so!"
   The time was passing, but Adygh did not appear. There were no lessons of the martial arts planned for that day. The entire day could pass without their meeting.
   "Well, let it be so!" - the girl pouted her lips.
   Adygh did not come to lunch. The Chinese servant reported to his mistress, that her beloved went with Soslan to the aul on some business. Daha did not touch the food. She took the gogon and went to the distant spring. She sat for a long time at the spring, coming out from the ground, and listened to its tune. Returning to the palace, she ordered to make fire in the fireplace. She just sat there, looking at the fire. It made her sight sharper. She threw some incense into the flame. Hours passed, but Adygh did not return. She wanted to stop the sand watch, but then decided against it: "What is the difference?" Her beloved returned, when she was ready to leave the library and retire to her room.
   - I was in the mosque - he said simply.
   - It changes a lot.
   First Daha was unsure of her yesterday's behavior. But Adygh did not even mention it, and the girl becalmed, forgetting her sorrows. She even was merry.
   - All the women are young - said the prince to her. - But some of them are younger than the others. At least they think so.
   - What are you talking about?
   - You are so young. And though I am not much older, I sometimes think, that you are my beloved, my sister and my daughter - all in one.
   - No - the princess laughed. - I accept only the first definition.
   She stood up and went to Adygh. Her hands made a ring around the Adygh's neck. When the tremor in the young bodies subsided, they sat at the fireplace, inhaling the fragrance of the flame.
   - Tell me about your religion. Our children will be Moslems.
   - Who knows.- Adygh answered.- Will Dabech allow it?
   - His request concerns our first son. Shall we have the only child?
   Adygh smiled:
   - Ardent women are very dangerous.
   - Am I ardent?
   - You said so.
   - Are you going to tell me about Moslem religion?
   - I will tell you of those things that are common to all religions.
   Dahawos drew closer to her beloved.
   - I am listening...
   - I will tell you about the Paradise, about Adam and his wives.
   - Wives? - the princess was astonished.
   - Eve was the one whom the God created from the Adam's rib, but there was one women in the Paradise before her.
   - What? You mean, that Eve was not our mother?
   - I did not say so.
   - But you did! Just now!
   - No, I just said, that before Eve there was another woman. She was made by God from the clay, as Adam was. Then the God inspired life into them. Her name was Lilit. But she was contradicting her husband all the time and insulted him...
   - What happened then?
   - Adam complained to the God about Lilit's behavior, and He dispelled her from the Paradise.
   - I will be obedient to you - she said quite seriously.
   - And I promise to be kind and just.
   There was a long pause, each of them immersed in thoughts.
   - Adygh, tell me why don't you go to your aul to get the permission of the elders for our marriage?
   - Because I do not want the people say about me : "He went to get a cooper coin, and lost a golden one".
   She laughed.
   - Dabech will return, and then I will depart from these caves to deal with all my domestic problems. The most difficult will be the problem of the name for our first-born. But the elders are wise. They will empathize with your clan.
   A week has passed before Dabech returned to the palace with his band. He declined any meetings - with Daha, Adygh or Soslan. The young people knew from the members of his koop, that the band was ambushed. One of their old informers turned a double agent. He sold to the Russians. One of the Turkmen - Nuriddin - and two aul warriors were killed, two more wounded. One of the wounded was critical. Silence hanged in the Bech's caves. Nobody dared to break it. The first to deny it was the prince's alumna.
   Bech! - she appeared in his room - Is it the first time you lost your comrades in combat? Aren't you used to the sight of blood? Do not every Kabardin know, that his good luck may turn away any hour in the raid?
   - We were betrayed.
   - Treachery existed from the days immemorial, it exists now and will exist for a long time in the future.
   - I lost my people.
   - Haven't you brought home your dead and wounded?
   - Yes, I had. How could I leave them? Tomorrow we will bury the dead: Nuriddin in the Moslem cemetery, the Chelistans - in our family one.
   - May I help you somehow?
   - You already did. You opened the lock of silence.
   Later Dahawos came to know, that Dabech left a bloody trail behind him again. This time in the Transkuban territory. Returning to the aul, where his double agent lived, he slaughtered all the men in his house. The traitor himself was cut to pieces, and his three wretched daughters were given to the Turkmen for humiliation. The Amysh aulers objected it, but Bech did not listen to anybody's advice.
   - Will the time ever come for him to quiet down? - Daha asked Adygh. - Will the time come when hie will return from the raid without being smeared in blood knee-high?
   Adygh kept silence.
   Three days after that they were busy with the funerals and funeral repast. They also made decisions about the compensations to the families of the dead. Bech visited the wounded every day. The best of healers were brought and paid lavishly for treatment of the wounded.
   Soon an officer from the N fortress appeared in the aul. A lieutenant Hohlov.
   - I have my orders to deliver abrek Dabech to colonel Nazarov - he said to Malichipkh.
   - Have you arrived alone or with troops? - the old blind woman asked.
   - I have ten light cavalry men with me.
   - Ah, that is the great force - her voice was vitriolic. - Return to colonel Nazarov and tell him that my son will arrive to him on his own.
   - But my orders...
   - Listen to me, sonny, and you will return safely to your fortress and your people will be saved. Tell Yefim Yevdokimovich: princess Malichipkh promised, that Dabech will visit him. Tell him to wait a little. No need to place the cannons on the road, either. He will come alone.
   She ordered to feed Hohlov's men and accommodate them to rest.
   After that she called her son.
   - What you have done again?
   - I fought, - was the answer.
   - People are not summoned for that to the fortress commander.
   - Our informer, Hamish, betrayed us. I punished the traitor and his kin.
   - You may avoid telling me the way you did it. The bad news reached aul faster than your war horses. This is not glory you have brought to us. It is a disgrace.
   Dabech was silent. His mother did not speak either.
   - What I must do? - Dabech broke the silence at last.
   - Go to colonel Nazarov.
   - Do you think that I will return from the fortress alive?
   - And do you think that I would send you to your death?
   - Good. - Dabech said. - I will go.
   When he turned to leave his mother's saklia, she stooped him:
   - Wait!
   She went to her room with a sure step and soon returned, holding something wrapped into a piece of home-made cloth.
   - Give this to the commandant. Tell him that it is a gift from me... as a memento.
   Dabech unwrapped the present when he was out. He caught his breath. It was an empress' diadem of unbelievable beauty, all strewn with big jewels.
   "Malichipkh estimates my life rather high" - he thought.
   Hohlov with his cavalrymen was still relaxing in the Amysh aul, when Dabech with the band of his Turkmen and fifty Kabardins departed to N fortress. Leaving his escort in the neighboring forest, the prince rode to the fortress alone.
   - If I will not return by the evening, storm the fortress and have no pity - he ordered to his warriors. He took away all his arms, except the traditional dagger on his belt.
   What the colonel and the prince discussed that day? Nobody will ever know that. May be they talked about the hostages - Hohlov and his detachment. May be the colonel liked the diadem. May be something else. But Dabech returned to his people in time. And they turned their horses to the Amysh aul. When they covered half of their way, they met with the Hohlov's detachment. Kabardins took their rifles from their covers, the Turkmen took out their sabers from the scabbards, ready to attack the enemy. But Adygh raised his hand and pressed it to his heart, greeting Hohlov and his cavalrymen:
   - A good day, lieutenant!
   The cavalrymen, who already were whispering a funeral prayer, cheered up:
   - Many good days to you, prince, too! - lieutenant replied. - Where you are coming from?
   - Usually we never answer such questions in these mountains, but I will tell you. We are returning from N fortress. I was a guest of colonel Nazarov. We are koonaks with him.
   Hohlov was bewildered but said nothing. He who came to arrest the prince and the one who should be arrested, went each his way along the narrow path.
   After that Dabech said to Adygh on their first encounter:
   - Go to your native aul now. I want to hurry the events. I will marry Dahawos to you and when our heir would be born, I am going to depart to the monastery on Mount Saray.
   - Where? - Adygh could not hide his astonishment.
   - You are too young to have hearing problems - said the prince. He did not repeat his words, turned and went to his half of the cave palace.
   "Daha and I nearly quarreled. - flashed in young prince's mind.
   Here is what happened. At first Adygh's attention flattered Daha's pride. But, feeling his male power over herself, she rioted and became more and more indifferent. Feeling that, Adygh grew taciturn, tedious and, probably, cold. When Adygh began to prepare for his departure, she understood, that she is loosing something very dear and close to her heart. "Again I will be left in the splendor of this palace alone, surrounded but by my nannies and teachers. Again I will be passing my time with the books, maps, globes, depicting different countries and peoples. And with love only on the pages of novels and poems".
   When Adygh was ready to get his foot into the stirrup and looked at Dahawos with his gray-green eyes to bid her farewell, she whispered:
   - Stay!
   - What for?
   - Stay for ever! I can't live without you.
   He stayed that day. But now the road called him.
   "How will I explain my departure to Daha? - he thought. - Best of all to tell her everything as it is" - and hurried to his beloved.
   She met the news with understanding.
   - If that is obligatory, we can do nothing. - And then asked irrelevantly:
   - The soul star... What it is like?
   - Same as the star in the sky, but your own. Your very own - he replied.
   When Adygh and Soslan saddled their mighty horses, Daha threw her arms around Adygh's neck:
   - Let the news of your return overrun your horse on your way back.
   Now the whole world became monotonous for Daha. The days melted as the wax candles. The world was lost in the dust from the hooves of the horses which carried away her dear horsemen.
   Yevdokiya Rodionovna, putting her to sleep, asked her:
   - What are you doing now, Daha dear?
   - I am standing in the queue for happiness - the girl replied.
   - That's good. - The nanny was glad. - It will come. It will come without fail.
   Falling asleep, the princess thought: "If it is destined to me at all... My happiness... When?"
   She did not get the answer. Who could answer that? So she went to sleep with her expectations. At night the White Goat told her in her dream:
   "You will be showered by the golden rain of wise thoughts".
   "What do I need that gold for?"
   "To manage it properly. - And then the Goat added: - be generous and proud".
   "Generous... How?"
   "Give to the people more than you can".
   "And how proud?"
   "Take less than you may require"
   In the morning she met Bech and told him:
   - Tell me what torments you. I will take the bigger part of your sufferings.
   - No, - said the prince. - I do not want to dress you into the mournful attire.
   Then Daha raised her white hands up, and they flashed, like thunderbolts from the cloud. The prince never understood, what happened to him. He was flying over his aul, the forest and the mountains. They ascended above the narrow gorge and were floating over the world.
   - Do not lag behind! - Daha shouted. And he tried hard to catch up to her.
   His soul was exulted. Dabech felt, that all the evil, all the offences and lies were falling from his memory down to the ground. He would like to fly like that eternally. But their legs simultaneously touched the stone floor of the cave. Now they were standing face to face. Bech's soul was singing. The prince forgot that feeling of ecstasy long ago, after his stay at Hagoor's in Adygheya.
   - What it was, oh, what?
   - I do not know, the girl smiled. - You just stood there, smiling. And I smiled, too.
   "She won't tell me. Better not to ask her anything. It's one of her Bhutan tricks. But it was so wonderful!"
   Dabech changed from that day. He became calmer and more kind. But the main change was that he went to the cave chapel every evening, staying there for hours.
   - I talk to God - explained he to his retinue.
   He remunerated lavishly his Turkmen warriors and sent them home. He sent a heap of gold to the aul school. He ordered a caravan of carts, loaded with flour, salt, sugar and varicolored cloth, bought in the N fortress to be delivered to the neighboring aul.
   - Striving to do good, prince? - asked Evdokiya Rodionovna. - The God sees everything. And people, too. The Almighty will approve, the people will be grateful.
   - The first I believe, the second I do not - Dabech said. - people are never complacent and never grateful to their neighbor. They thank the God.
   - Think what you want, but do not say it aloud. - Daha's nanny taught him.
   - Have it your way, granny - prince agreed.
   While Adygh was absent, Bech decided to talk to Daha about the serious matters - those, which worried him most of all.
   - Do you think that the kin of your bridegroom will agree to name your first-born Amysh?
   - Have they any choice? Are you bitten by the snake of doubt?
   - The snake, you say, - Dabech smirked. The snake - that luxuriates on the road for too long will be surely squashed by a cart.
   - And the bird that flies too close to the sun will burn its wings - Dahawos said with conviction.
   - How do you know? Have you ever seen a bird with the wings burnt?
   - My mother sang me a song about it...
   - Mothers sing a lot of songs to us, while we are in our cradles. But I will not contradict mothers' songs. They are sacred. Let's return to the subject that worries me most.
   - Do not grieve and do not feel sorrow - answered his alumna. - Adygh will do everything you want.
   - I doubt it - the prince replied. - His elders will demand him to bring his wife to his native aul. That is customary and just.
   - But it will not satisfy you, even if our first-born will adopt the name of the Amysh family...
   - Will it satisfy you? After all this... - he made a gesture with his hand, encircling the space around. - Will you be satisfied? What was the use of all those teachers, books, musical instruments, paintings? For whom they were?. Not me, for sure.
   Dahawos was silent, because she never thought where they would live with Adygh after their marriage. But, really, it is difficult to believe, that people will approve of a man of a noble family living in the house of her uncle. Nobody could answer that question. What was just for Daha and the prince, contradicted principal Kabardin traditions. Nobody was going to permit violation of those traditions.
   - What the Adygh elders will say is important for me. But what the people will say behind our backs is not less important. It is our honor. The name of Amysh and Pago.
   - We must succeed not because of someone's support, but notwithstanding any objections - said the princess.
   - How?
   - A man can defraud the Almastyh,* but cannot defraud himself - Daha said. Then, after a short silence, she continued: - Bech, let us consult Malichipkh.
   - About what?
   - About the problems troubling you.
   The old woman listened to her son and her granddaughter. Ordering Daha to prepare Kalmyk tea, she went out to her bedroom. She was absent long. They drank tea, and discussed their problems once more, but she was still absent.
   - We drank a whole caldron of tea, waiting for you - Dabech said when Malichipkh returned.
   - Do not ask difficult questions, and the answer will not take long.
   - Well, what we must do? - Daha hurried her granny.
   - I f someone wants neither to wait, nor to listen, how can I help? - squeaked Malichipkh.
   - Excuse me, nana - the girl was embarrassed.
  -- Pago used to say, - began Malichipkh at last - "There is no difference
   __________________
   * Almastyh - a Snowman, considered in the Caucasus a personification of a devil
   with what you gain victory - your valor or your cunning".
   - Cunning is a great force, too - Dabech noted.
   - Now, here is my advice to you... By all means assure, that the first-born will appear in Bech's palace. It will not be easy, but the people cannot blame you for that. When Daha will be heavy, send Adygh with a letter to the Russian Czar. When he returns, he will be father already. In the meantime, make a will, bequeathing everything you have to the newly born son of Amysh family - your noble rank, your palace, your wealth. You have no one else to make your heir, anyway.
   - What if our son - mine and Kateh's will return to the aul?
   - Write special clauses denoting his rights, too. Who can contradict you?
   - What shall I do then? Where do I go?
   - Do not try to deceive me. Your soul is long ago in the monastery on the Mount Saray. You sent gold to that monastery. Am I wrong?
   - How can you be wrong? Did such a thing ever happen? If I retire, may Adygh live in our palace?
   - In the house of his son? Why can't he live in the house of his native descendant? No one can reproach him for that. On the contrary, it is very commendable.
   With these words Malichipkh retired to her room.
   When Adygh returned to the Bech's caves, he was accompanied besides Soslan by his uncles, the elders of his native aul, his relatives and friends. The caravan delivered to the palace numerous gifts. Nile, a white Arabian stallion, was among them.
   Bech accepted his guests with pleasure, inspected the gifts attentively and thanked for them, especially for Nile, which could not but captivate any Kabardin.
   - We have come to you with compliments, prince - said the elder of Adygh's uncles - Sosym - at the lavish dinner, which was given not at the palace, but in the family saklia in the aul. - Our Adygh likes your beautiful Dahawos, which resembles the Sun at the daytime and the Moon in the night. We want our two families to become related, to have brave warriors and slender beauties from Adygh and Dahawos, and to make those, who do not want to show proper respect, tremble from fear. I said what I wanted.
   Dabech's reply to his guests was noncommittal, as was customary. He cited several reasons to avoid this wedding, making them sound convincing.
   - There are some laws, which do not demand any fine dressing - Sosym said. - They exist to be obeyed. If our neighbors are weaving shroud cloth, we will not play the shikapshina in our house.
   He promised, that only heroic ballads will be sung at the wedding ceremony. And only "Kafa" will be danced.
   Dabech, in his turn, was telling them about the woe, which his clan was mourning, and repeated, that they have no heir, and that their family name may perish.
   - We are aware of it, we mourn with you and we agree to your main condition - the first-born of the newlyweds will be named Amysh's descendant.
   Dabech sighed, relieved.
   "The main is done - he thought - now to Dahawos whereabouts after the wedding".
   He continued to narrate to them the circumstances, of which they were fully aware.
   - To give your consent, you simply have to say `yes". All the other words are in vain.- Sosym said.
   - Then I say "yes". But I request you to leave Dahawos in my palace until her firs son will be born.
   - We already consulted the elders of our and neighboring auls on that matter - the matchmakers replied. - They said, that they will not consider that a disgrace. We agree.
   "The happiness peeked into our aul again" - the prince thought.
   And then there was a wedding celebration: the bulls, sheep and goats were slaughtered; lambs were roasted on the skewers; dalens and lakooms were fried... Everything as usual. But without usual bravado and gaiety, traditional at such events in Kabardin tradition. Though the horse racing, stone throwing, and tug-of-war competitions were held. The epic songs and heroic ballads they sang! After the celebrations the bride with a whole caravan of Dabech's gifts to their new relatives departed to her husband's aul. There, in the faraway and strange village, Daha was standing stark naked in front of Adygh, burning from curiosity.
   - This is your night - she said.
   They visited the kingdom of happiness. Moon's crescent got embarrassed and hid shamefacedly behind the clouds. Then looked out and hid again. At the sunrise her lips woke Adygh.
   - You will miss all the world! - she began to dress, not waiting for the unaut girls, who did not dare to enter her room till Dabech was there.
   We are all not the masters, but the servants of our religions, states, traditions... We are servants only... We pretend to be deciding. But we always are looking back on the customs, laws, commoners' opinions... Our happiness is spread equally in time. Many of us will object, but the life proves it.
   Daha remembered the words of an English poet: "The man who married for love resembles the frog that jumped into the well. Plenty of water, but no way back".
   She smirked: "What about a woman, that loves her husband, as I love Adygh? What about her?"
   She wanted to find an answer to that question, but couldn't. She cited a line she read in one of the books in Bech's library. "Love is like a snow-covered mountain peak: as soon as you got there, you have to descend"
   She chased that thought away from her mind: "That is not about me. I have a lot before that descent. I am not on the peak yet!"
   They returned to the Amysh aul without excessive manifestations. As if returning home at last from some trip to the distant relatives.
   - Be happy! - Dabech greeted the newlyweds.
   After two days Daha was going to visit Malichipkh and her mother. Adygh intended to join her.
   - Don't! - princess asked him. - The granny will summon you when the time comes.
   Adygh understood. He was getting used to the peculiarities of Dabech's mother and accepted her as she was.
   After her mother embraced her, Dahawos went to her granny.
   Malichipkh asked her a very short question;
   - How was it?
   That question should be answered either in detail, or just by shrugging shoulders. Daha decided otherwise.
   - Nana, - she began her story - one Jewish king, who was considered the wisest of the sage, was asked to solve a riddle. They have brought artificial roses, made with such skill that no one could see the difference, and the real ones. "Where are the real and where are the artificial roses?" - people asked. The wise king did not hesitate:
   "Bring several bees in here" - he said. When it was done, the bees immediately selected the live ones. - "Here is the answer to your riddle" - said the king of Jews.
   - Do not compare yourself with the sage Pashtykh* - the old woman squeaked. - You are still a silly girl, being spoilt just because you must bear a child to prolong the kin of Amysh.
   - Is it not enough to make me important, nana?
  -- Enough or nor - that is not the question. I asked you a short question:
   "How?". You answered me with a story. Go away.
   - But I did not intend to offend you, Malichipkh! - there were tears in the princess' eyes.
   - Only God may offend me - said the old woman.
   Dahawos knew, that any argument will be in vain, and turned to go.
   - You will bear a son. Name him after his father. Because the path of life of the man, who carries that name now, will come to an end on the banks of Ten River - these were Malichipkh's parting words.
   That day and many times later Dahawos remembered these words of Malichipkh. She was alarmed: "Malichipkh never says anything without reason".
   Malichipkh was different from the other clairvoyants. She foretold the things which will happen tomorrow. The others who were foretelling the events which could happen many years ahead, were difficult to check. What was true and what was false in those predictions? What the old woman meant now?
   Everyday routine distracted the princess from her joyless thoughts. That is life. Daha was attending her lessons as before, read a lot and continued her training sessions with Adygh and Soslan. But there came a day, when Adygh told her:
   - That's enough! We stop our training for the time being!
   - But why? - Daha pouted her lips.
   ______________________
   Pashtykh - a sovereign ruler, a King or a Czar in Kabardin
  
   - Can't you guess? Go and have a good look in the mirror. You will be a mother soon.
   Dahawos threw her arms around Adygh's neck, heeding not Soslan's presence:
   - I know, I know! But why didn't I think, that we must stop our lessons?
   At this moment she remembered, how Kathy had to stop their horse races in the Trench Fort, expecting her child.
   Dabech also noticed his nephew's pregnancy. He called the young pair and announced, that he intends to send Adygh to the Russian Czar with a letter, in which he describes his ways to achieve peace in Kabarda, and, subsequently, in the Northern Caucasus.
   - The God is always thinking about us, but who said, that the God promised to think for us? I found Pago's letter to the Czar. It demanded but unimportant amendments. I did them. You will take fifty horsemen. Deliver to the Pashtykh that manuscript and our gifts. I do not think that he will recall his troops back at once. But it will be a first step to that success, which Dahawos' mission will have in the future. In the distant future...
   - Wouldn't it be better for Adygh to be present at the moment when his son will be born? - asked the princess timidly.
   - He will return by that time - was the answer.
   Dabech himself selected men for Adygh's detachment. He talked personally to each and every of them. He asked everyone to guard their prince.
   - He is our hope - Bech edified warriors, preparing them for their mission.
   They were good warriors, serving their prince loyally, guarded his domain, took part in guarding the Kabarda borders. But Bech knew, that princes were killed in the combat often, because they considered it a disgrace to yield in valor and heroism to the commoner or to the noble, lower in the hierarchy. Their tradition forbade them to leave their wounded or dead comrades on the battlefield. They had to be the first in advance and the last retreating from a pursuit.
   Bech looked at his nephew's husband and recollected Amysh. Being asked what a warrior should be, he answered: "Brave in combat, modest in life and able to compose a song". "And what a warrior shouldn't be?" - "Curious, fidgety, bewildered and despaired. I do not speak about cowardice. Any man, leave alone the warrior, must not be a coward - the herdsman, the smith, the plowman".
   "Has Adygh all those qualities of the warrior in his possession?" - Bech stared at the young man, who has become so close to him now. He had only one answer: "Yes, he has".
   - If the Czar will propose to you a commission in his army, do not refuse, like I did. Always remember, that it is not the weapons you must fear, it's people. Fear and death are brother and sister. The coward will die first. When you fight, fight as ten men would. Farewell now.
   Adygh turned in the doorway and asked him:
   - Why did you say "farewell"?
   - When you will return, you will have a son. He will be the owner of this palace, my aul, all Amysh wealth. You can live with him, until he grows up enough to become a warrior. After that you with Dahawos will decide what to do.
   - What about you, Bech?
   - I made my mind to retire to the monastery on the Mount Saray. I will live till the end of my life there, expiating my sins.
   They parted. For ever.
   The night before his departure Adygh told Daha:
   - I want to drown in your love.
   The happiness itself was glad to serve them that night. By the morning she noticed, that her beloved was anxious. His thoughts seemed to carry him far away.
   - What are you thinking about? - she asked.
   - Even in marital bed with such a beauty, man must use his head.
   - I do not think, that the head is of much importance here - the young wife laughed. - Let it rest!
   Then the preparations for departure turned into the days of waiting.
   She did not know yet, that the best of men came to her for an instant, stayed a little, and departed for ever. The night her son was born the Moon orbited close to the Gemini and Mercury, Jupiter approached the Sagittarius, and the closeness of the Saturn rocked the Scales. In the morning Dabech came to have a look at his heir.
  
  
   At that very moment on the steep bank of Don River the Cossacks were attacking at full gallop the handful of Kabardins, betrayed by those of their compatriots, who opposed the friendly ties with Russia and were inclined to the sultan's Turkey.
   The traitors told to the Cossacks: - "Get us the letter, which the embassy had to deliver to the Russian Czar. Take the gold and the rich gifts".
   But the Don Cossacks were paying a dear price for their greed. Very dear! The Kabardin cavalry of those times was the best in the world. However deft the Cossacks were, at their first attack many of them were mown down by the rifle salvoes and shashkas as the grass on the meadow. Observing this, their ataman* Terehov said to his subordinates:
   - Are we really interested in this affair?
   It is easy to get involved in a battle, but difficult to get out of it. Again the Cossacks rolled like an avalanche on the Adygh warriors' positions. Again they suffered heavy losses. But the forces were too unequal. New horsemen replaced the fallen Cossacks. The handful of highlanders was not melting slowly like a candle, it was burning down. Adygh tore the letter to the Russian Czar to pieces and threw the pieces into the Don River. Then those, who was still alive, killed their horses and hid behind their carcasses. Hey, ataman, didn't you know from the very childhood, that the Kabardins are not that easy to overcome? Was it worth to pay the lives of so many good Cossacks for those golden trinkets?
   When they run out of cartridges, Adygh, Soslan and three Amysh warriors still alive, stood up and went to their offenders with daggers in their hands.
   - Who is ready to fight us in an honest hand-to-hand encounter?- Soslan called the Don Cossacks. But there were no such men. They shoot the approaching braves cowardly with their rifles at a safe distance. When they searched the saddlebags for the letter and the gifts, they found nothing. Don is your river, ask it.
   Dabech's estimation of those who opposed unification with Russia was wrong. He did not know that they were so strong and insidious. His mission was a failure and Adygh was dead.
   Dabech waited in vain for his nephew's husband. Having no news of him, he went to the Mount Saray to pray forgiveness for the innocent
   blood he spilt and his great sins. He was expected there. How could they
   ____________________
   * ataman -elected chief of Cossacks
  
   reject such a rich novice, who sent so much gold to the monastery, that it was impossible for the monks to spend.
   May be, Dabech would return some day to the Amysh aul, considering his past sins expiated. But people say, that one day, when he was busy with his hoe in the fruit terrazzo garden, a young warrior approached him.
   - Is your name Dabech?
   - It was, in the past - the hermit answered.
   - Do you remember the blood you spilt, avenging abrek Cavcazos?
   - I remember everything. That is why I retired to the monastery - to pray forgiveness for that blood and the other sins.
   The young warrior threw his boorka on the ground smartly between him and Bech and dropped two daggers on it.
   - They say, you never were a coward. I give you a chance to show your skill - at the end of this boorka with a dagger in your hand.*
   - I have come here not for the heroic deeds, but for prayer.
   - Then you are a coward! I presume that you always hid behind the backs of your nobles and uzdens, being a coward in your soul!
   - Presume what you want - answered Pago's son, feeling, that his blood rushed to his cheeks.
   - If you will not take your dagger now, I will whip you till your filthy Amysh soul leaves your body.
   - Nobody will dare to strike me - Pago's son objected.
   - Why are you so sure?
  -- Because I will not allow it - said Dabech, gripping one of the daggers
   with a deft movement.
   ___________________
   *Description of a traditional Kabardin duel
   The young djigit attacked the prince with vehemence and valor. But Dabech was an experienced warrior. For him this kind of a duel - at the ends of a boorka with daggers was not fun, but a part of his combat life. He turned swiftly on his heel, making his enemy miss his aim, and stuck his dagger into his foe's eye down to the hilt.
   - Well, that's it. One more corpse - said the prince. - But is it my fault?
   After that nobody saw Dabech. People knew, that he is alive, that his spirit whorls over the Mount Saray, but nobody saw the last of seven sons of Pago.
   Dahawos was left with all the countless riches, with a small son and interminable problems. She repeated the words of an English poet to sustain her life: "I live in this world to support the others. Why the others live - I do not know". She explained it to herself: " It is easy to ask a difficult question. To answer it is difficult".
  
   In the skirmish of Cossacks with the highlanders, a small detachment of Line horsemen was pursuing the overwhelming force of Circassians. Cossacks were ambushed and lost fourteen men. The highlanders' casualty was one killed and five wounded, including their chieftain - Sultan-bek. He attacked the group of Line Cossacks, they slashed each other with their sabers in a frantic encounter. Sultan-bek wounded their sotnik* and nearly killed major Priyatinsky, who escaped death due to the protection of Virgin Mary, most probably. A mighty strike of the abrek's shashka killed his horse. If that strike was a trifle more accurate, the major would be cut in two.
   Sultan-bek, wounded by one of the Cossack's pistol shot, left the battlefield, and was carried by his comrades to the mountains, where he
   __________________
   *sotnik - a commander of a hundred Cossacks
   hid in the Amysh aul.
   The scouts reported this to the fortress, and major Popov with a hundred of light cavalrymen arrived to the village, demanding the wounded abrek leader' surrender.
   The aulers replied, that Sultan-bek is not in this aul and never was, so they can not deliver him.
   Treating Popov and his men to boiled lamb meat and pastah, prepared in the caldrons on the outskirts of the village, aulers escorted them with all the formalities to the exit from the gorge, where they parted as good friends.
   But the fortress administration did not take no for an answer. This case was presented to general Ubetsok in Kislovodsk headquarters. He said:
   - As far as I remember, that is the same aul, where some runaway Shapsughs were hiding? High time to teach the disobedient subjects a lesson.
   He sent an order to N fortress, the essence of which was an expedition to the mountains. The aul was to be burned. Those, who will engage in armed resistance were to be exterminated. All the other population had to be resettled in the Transkuban territory.
   Staff captain Maximov asked colonel Nazarov to relieve him from announcing this sad news to his koonaks. That's why major Popov was sent do deliver that awesome message.
   Aul elders convened their Haseh. They invited Dahawos, though usually women were prohibited from such meetings.
   - Someone must be present from the Amysh's and Pago's family - they reasoned.
   Dahawos appeared in the council in a crimson dress of a stern design, resembling Circassian men's frock. It was cut in the middle, opened at her breast, tight in the waist and widening evenly from the waist down. Under that dress she wore straight and wide blue trousers, reaching her heels. Rhombus shape insertion was between the legs of the trousers. The upper angles of the rhombus reached her belt, while the lower ones descended to the trouser bottom. These trousers Dahawos tucked into her soft morocco high boots of the same crimson color. Blue cotton shirt was buttoned up to her throat. Her belt, tied loosely in front, was not made of engraved silver, usual among noble Kabardin dames but of fabric. Her head was covered by blue head kerchief, folded double and tied rather low on her forehead, to cover her hair. Light silk shawl was over that kerchief. No rouge or jewelry. Deliberate strictness and very light flavor of exquisite perfume indicated her noble position.
   - We have to take an important decision - Psebyda began.
   They talked about justice and came to conclusion, that justice without force is a pure infirmity.
   They talked about conscience and agreed with old Bataraz, that the voice of the pure conscience is more pleasant then glory.
   They talked about the Motherland and that they probably will be resettled at some other location. Here they agreed with the old Panuko, that the strange land will never became their motherland.
   At last Haseh came to the decision: "We will fight!"
   - If we evade this trial of our courage, what will we bequeath to our children and grandchildren? What our neighbors and relatives in other auls will say? Who will respect us? - Psebyda said.
   Elders nodded their agreement:
   - Yes, only the brave men can overcome the awesome anger, that threatens us.
   - Why are you silent, our daughter? - they addressed Dahawos. -Everyone invited to this council has equal rights.
   Dahawos said, looking down:
   - Thank you for inviting me. Thank you for your permission to voice my opinion. I am afraid to appear more silly then the others, but I would like to remind you, that bravery without prudence is like cowardice...
   A slight murmur rolled over the council.
   - But bravery combined with wit is stronger than wit without valor.
   - What is your proposal?
   - You are all wiser than me. But wit is powerless if it is poisoned with rage. A great man, who lived long before us in a faraway country, has said: "The iron rustles, if it is not used. The stagnant water freezes in winter. The human mind withers without exercise". We must avoid that. Is our small aul able to withstand a great country with a powerful army?
   - But, daughter, should we allow them to slaughter us like our neighbors, Moslems slaughter sheep to sacrifice on the day of Kurman?
   - No, I did not say so. We are living in our native aul, in our native Kabarda... But why we forgot that our ancestors many years ago pleaded to become loyal subjects of the great Russia?
   - Our elders asked for protection. They did not ask generals of the white Czar to burn our auls, to erect their fortresses on our lands and to neglect our traditions.
   Dahawos was speaking quietly, but her voice reached everyone. It seemed, that the mountain breeze caught the words of Amysh's and Pago's descendant and carried them to the aul saklias, hit the rocks, green an snow-covered summits, and returned reflected to the Haseh.
   - To be clever means not to ask the questions no one can answer.
   - Is the question "What we must do?" such a question? - the woman was asked.
   - No! If you desire, I will go to the fortress commandant and will try to persuade him not to send soldiers here. I will tell him, that there will be a great bloodshed without much advantage.
   The elders were nodding their heads in agreement.
   - Let one hundred horsemen escort you to the fortress - Psebyda decided.
   - No, dada. I prefer to go with only one servant and my Russian nanny. Who will dare to trouble us? I am going on my own free will.
   - What if you meet with some roaming abreks?
   - That do not know me?
   - Yes...
   - Dada, do you think they have a chance?
   Laughter rocked Haseh for the first time since it's commencement.
  
   Dahawos estimate her time of arrival to the fortress so that she would be at the gates in the morning. She rode all the way in the same dress she was wearing in the Haseh. Her nanny, Yevdokiya Rodionovna, and the servant were sitting in a light cart, driven by two excellent horses, that could be saddled any moment if the need arose. Two spare horses were tied to the cart on rather long reins. Dahawos used them to change her tired racer. Each saddlebag contained two loaded pistols, the Circassian rifle in felt cover was on the ready. And a shashka was fastened to every saddle, of course.
   Not far from the fortress the princess made a stop where the skittish river bent around a small headland. Ordering her servant to roam around with a rifle, she took off her clothes under a wild pear and splashed naked in the invigorating water. Yevdokiya Rodionovna helped her to put on a stern French dress, a hat with a short veil, which were fashionable that time in Petersburg. That short veil did not hide her face - it just intrigued. As usual, the family ring was on the finger of princess' left hand. She wanted to put on the family cross on the chain, but her nanny implored:
   - Daha dear, for God's sake, wait till we arrive to the fortress! I fear, that if some bad man sees that great cross, he will try to carry it away together with your head!
   Daha's eyes flashed with anger. Involuntary she looked to the saddlebags, where the pistols were, to rifles and shashkas. But then decided to follow nanny's advice.
   - All right, all right... Hide it somewhere, nanny dear. You will give it to me afterwards.
   At the fortress gates she asked to report her arrival to the commandant:
   - Princess Dahawos from the mountain aul on an urgent matter.
   Petty officer on duty at the gates reported to the officer of the day, and that one - to the commandant.
   - Now it begins - thought Yefim Yevdokimovich, annoyed.
   - Escort the princess to the house next to the Court of justice.
   - The one with chains?
   - Yes, that one - colonel replied. - See, that no one of her cut-heads was permitted to enter the fortress!
   - She is accompanied only by a Russian matron and a servant coachman.
   - Only?
   - Yes...
   - Strange...Very strange... She must have her escort hidden somewhere near. Check the vicinities.
   - Yes, Your Excellency! But most probably she was alone. It seems so.
   - Check around anyway, my boy. To be double sure.
   Short time after Dahawos was accommodated in the two-story house.
   There were few like that in Nartsano. With arched gates, high and bright windows, with a carriage shed and flowerbeds, where outlandish plants were growing.
   - Whose house is this?
   The servants informed her that the house belongs to the Balkarukos. The family of nobles was living presently in Petersburg.
   - But the house is at your disposal and we are ready to fulfill any desires of esteemed madam.
   The house was unique. Two doors from the parlor on the upper floor opened onto two balconies, held up by chains and full with the southern plants. All this greenery was blooming, emitting exquisite fragrance. Each of the balconies had two light wicker armchairs with a low table between them. Metal banisters were decorated by ivy and grapevine. All day Dahawos spent, awaiting for commandant's invitation. She was cared about well, the servants were serving excellent food and drinks.
   "What a horrible occupation - to be idle - the princess thought. - To wait and do nothing".
   She was drinking tea on one of the balconies, adoring great white roses and yellow lemons, when a young officer arrived. He was full of his mission's importance and dressed in a parade uniform. Keeping his cap on his bent elbow, he addressed Dahawos:
   - Madam, - and then, bewildered by her beauty, stammered, correcting himself: - Princess, His Excellency colonel Nazarov Yefim Yevdokimovich with his spouse Anastasia Pavlovna invite you to the lunch tomorrow. I am honored to accompany you.
   - Express my gratitude to the colonel and his spouse for this kind invitation - Dahawos answered the officer in her perfect French. - I will expect you, lieutenant.
   The messenger departed, and Daha thought:
   "I must remain happy, satisfied by the little I managed to achieve".
   But even that little was still separated from her by the whole night.
   A white Mountain Goat from Bech's fairy tale came to her in her dream:
   "Do not be stubborn! It's impossible to squeeze water from a stone".
   Daha looked at the green mountain slopes (still dreaming). Goats were grazing there. Many goats.
   "That is a call to be careful and distrust everyone".
   The White Goat continued: "If you loose your freedom, the land where your aul was will be still there. The gorge and the country will be still there. But there will be no Motherland. Remember that".
   Saying that the Goat vanished.
   At the appointed time the officer was waiting for Dahawos at the Balkarukos mansion's entrance.
   Princess ordered to invite him in. Red in the face and stammering a little, he reported, that he is ready to accompany her to the colonel's lady, Anastasia Pavlovna Nazarova.
   The princess stared at the young officer.
   "My God! - She thought. - They are sending real boys here. Under the hail of bullets. How many mothers and brides will mourn their death, damning "savage" highlanders! And those who will remain alive, will boast, engaged in a small talk at some dinner, that they stormed and conquered the impregnable auls, slashed the hordes of abreks in the cavalry attacks, for the glory of Motherland and their Czar".
   Her thoughts returned to the hall, where she stood in front of the young officer, who was happy for this unusual encounter so far from the "civilization".
   - Thank you, my friend - the princess responded, adding after a short pause: - If you allow me to call you that?
   The officer grew even more embarrassed, but assured her, that he is honored. Then, mastering his feelings, he said:
   - It's a very short walk to the commandant's house, about five to seven minutes. No need to harness the carriage.
   - No, my friend! I have already ordered the carriage to be ready. But it will be used to carry the gifts I have brought for the commandant, his spouse and the wounded soldiers and officers. By the way, are there any wounded in the fortress?
   - But of course! With that war around!
   - So, we will walk as you proposed, and the carriage will wait for us at the colonel's mansion.
   They both smiled. The princess went to a big cherry wood dresser, opened the lower drawer and took out an excellent pistol. It was decorated with mother-of-pearl, ivory and silver.
   - Allow me to present this modest gift to you as a memento of our meeting - said the princess to the young officer, who seemed to loose his faculty of speech. - I hope it will be used to defend your honor, against the external enemies of your Motherland, but not against women and children in the mountain auls.
   - I promise, princess...
   - Let us go now - Dahawos did not want the lieutenant promise something he will not be able to fulfill. Yevdokiya Rodionovna and the coachman went to their destination by the cart, loaded with gifts. The princess, accompanied by the officer, descended from the porch at the arched gates and after several steps were in the very center of the fortress. Passing between the office of the Provisional Kabardin Court and the barracks, they walked along a wide street, lined by one-story wooden and brick houses. Everything around was clean and dignified. They met several soldiers, officers and peaceful highlanders, serving in the administration. Women were scarce. But even if the streets of the fortress were full of dames, it would be impossible not to notice Dahawos. A gray dress of English designers, black hat with a short and thin veil, high black laced boots. Add a bee's waist and that especial carriage... Attractive sight! The young woman was attracting attention of all pedestrians.
   - By the way, you forgot to introduce yourself, mon ami, - the princess was frankly coquettish, suppressing the feeling of grief for the death of Adygh, for the departure of Dabech, feeling of responsibility for her aul and aulers.
   - Lieutenant of the Shirvan Regiment Grigori Petrovich Sineglazov. Temporary assigned to this fortress.
   - Wonderful. Now we are formally acquainted. I think you know my name - Dahawos. Means "beautiful snow" in Kabardin.
   - From this minute on I will be loving snow more than anything in the world. When the fluffy snow starlets will begin to fall from the sky, I will be catching them on my palm. - And he raised his hand in the white kid glove, as if catching white snowflakes.
   - Oh, I did not think you are such a Don Juan! - she laughed.
   The lieutenant looked embarrassed again, but Daha reassured him kindly:
   - You have blue eyes. They correspond your name.*
   - Your eyes are also dark blue...
   Chatting so, they approached the commandant's mansion - a two-story building with four columns at the main entrance. The soldiers from the neighboring barracks were on the guards. Seeing the officer, they saluted him and presented arms. The hostess was waiting. For this occasion she put on her best dress. She looked natty and, much more important, was well-disposed.
  -- You are charming, princess, - she twittered, meeting her at the very
   _____________________
   *they correspond your name. Sineglazov - "Blue eyed" in Russian
   entrance. Nobody can guess, that you arrived from a mountain aul. If all your women look like that, Petersburg's reputation will fade!
   - Anastasia Pavlovna, - the princess replied, - They look more elegant than me. They are simply peerless in their national dress. If not this war, we could open the fashion salons in Petersburg and Paris, exhibiting Circassian female dresses and shoes. We could make lots of money!
   - It would be wonderful!- the colonel's lady sighed. - That business would bring us both pleasure and profit. But alas...
   Saying this, the hostess was thinking "It seems to me that I have met this pretty creature somewhere. Where? A girl once came with Kathy Zass... But that girl went with Kathy to the Trench Fort and then they departed either to Moscow, or to Petersburg. No! No! That was another girl, quite different!"
   The hostess invited her guest to the upper parlor.
   - With your permission, I will leave you for an instant - the guest said. - I must issue some instructions to my servants - she made a face.
   She called her servant and told him something in Kabardin language. Turning to Sineglazov, she asked him for several soldiers to help to unload the cart. Then she presented her Russian nanny to Anastasia Pavlovna:
   - Yevdokiya Rodionovna Bagenova - of a very good family of Russian gentry.
   It happened, that the manors of the Nazarovs and Bagenovs were nearly neighbors by the Russian standards: they were but one hundred miles apart. They were deep in reminiscences while the soldiers and the coachmen unloaded the gifts under the command of the lieutenant, which was fussing around, trying to help. When the cart was nearly empty, the commandant's wife said to Sineglazov:
   - You may go now, dear. We will chat a little - that is a ladylike occupation. (She said "dear" to all young officers in the fortress in a motherly way).
   Grigori Petrovich bowed and was ready to go, when Anastasia Pavlovna stopped him:
   - We are expecting you to dinner today.
   - But I am on duty to-day, to my regret, madam, - the officer, reddening in the face again, tried to decline the invitation, but the commandant's spouse was uncompromising:
   - Tell one of your colleagues to substitute you. That is a routine shift of duty, not an expedition, thank God. - And she turned back to her pretty guest majestically, closing the matter.
   The princess presented her gifts to Anastasia Pavlovna: a Saxon tea set for twelve persons, a Persian carpet, several dresses and hats, made in Moscow and Petersburg according to season's fashion. Yefim Yevdokimovich got a white boorka with a black edging below - the object of envy of every officer, serving in the Caucasus. But the most expensive gift was the antique smoking pipe of Swiss origin, made by an excellent master from massive ivory. In the upper part of the pipe, where the stem was bending, an idyllic pair was cut out: he was playing mandolin, she - a gipsy hand drum. Fine features of their faces, the strings of the mandolin, their tiny fingers, every fold of the national costumes... The mouthpiece was made of amber.
   - What a masterpiece - Anastasia Pavlovna was delighted.
   The pipe, which was fitted into an old case, worn-out with time, was accompanied with two big packs of expensive English pipe tobacco.
   - How can I express my gratitude, my dear? - the hostess exclaimed. She was famous in the Line fortresses as a most hospitable and generous lady.
   - Good done to the other people, enriches me more than them. That is a principle my mentor, Kabardin prince Dabech taught me.
   - You may be proud to have such a teacher.
   - I am. I try to follow his steps. I try to think as he did - the guest answered.
   Daha looked around the room she was in. It was clean and cozy. Numerous pictures hung on the walls. Mountain landscapes mostly, painted by the local soldier craftsmen. The furniture, which was brought from Russia, was simple, but of solid built. The armchairs were soft and deep.
   - I want to notify you about today's program. Yefim Yevdokimovich will come for lunch. I suppose that you would like to talk to him in private. That is why we did not invite anybody else for that meal. But in the evening we will give a dinner in your honor. All the officers of our fortress, free from duty are invited. Now let us drink tea