There was a
girl called Torko-Chachak, which means "Silken
Tassel." Her eyes were like wild cherries, her
brows were like two rainbows. Into her braids she
plaited seashells from distant lands, and on her hat
there was a silken tassel, white as moonlight.
One day the father of Silken Tassel fell ill, and her
mother said to her: "Get up on the bay
horse and hurry to the bank of the rushing river.
There, in a tent made of birchbark, you will find the
shaman Teldekpei. Ask him to come here and to cure
leaped up on the bay horse with the white star on his
forehead, took in her right hand the leather reins
with silver rings and in her left, the lash with a
finely carved bone handle. The bay horse galloped
fast, the reins shook up and down, the harness
Teldekpei sat at the threshold of his birchbark tent.
With a sharp knife, he was carving a round cup out of
a piece of birchwood. He heard the merry clattering
of hooves, the ringing of the harness. He raised his
eyes and saw the girl on the bay horse.
proudly in the high saddle, the silken tassel
fluttered in the wind, the seashells sang in her
dropped from the shaman's hand, the cup rolled into
said the girl. "My father is sick, come help
cure your father, Silken Tassel, if you will marry
me." The shaman's eyebrows were like moss, his
white beard, like a thorny shrub. Frightened,
Silken Tassel pulled the reins and galloped
off. "At dawn tomorrow I will come to
you!" the shaman called after her. The
girl came home, entered the tent and said: "Old
Teldekpei will be here tomorrow at dawn."
had not yet melted in the sky, the people in the camp
had not yet set the milk out to ferment, the meat in
the kettles had not yet been cooked, and the fine
white rugs were not yet spread upon the ground when
there was a loud clattering of hooves. The
oldest of the elders came out to welcome the mighty
He sat atop
a shaggy horse with a back as wide as a mountain
yak's. Silently, looking at no one, he dismounted,
and, greeting no one, he went into the tent. The old
men brought in after him the eighty-pound robe in
which he worked his magic and put it down on the
white rug. They hung his tambourine upon a wooden peg
and made a fire of fragrant juniper twigs under it.
from dawn to sunset, the shaman sat without lifting
his eyelids, without moving, without uttering a
word. Late at night Teldekpei stood up and
pulled his red shaman's hat down to his eyebrows. Two
owl feathers stood up in his hat like ears; red
strips of cloth fluttered behind it like two wings.
Large glass beads fell upon his face like hail.
Groaning, he lifted from the rug his eighty-pound
robe and put his hands into the stiff, hard sleeves.
Along the sides of the robe hung frogs and snakes
woven of magic grasses. Feathers of woodpeckers were
stuck into its back.
took his tambourine from the peg and struck it with a
wooden stick. A booming noise filled the tent, like a
mountain storm in winter. The people stood about
chilled with fear. The shaman danced and swayed and
worked his magic, the bells rang, and the tambourine
clashed and moaned and thundered. Then sudden silence
fell. The tambourine moaned for the last time, and
everything was still.
sank onto the white rug, wiped the sweat off his brow
with his sleeve, straightened his tangled beard with
his fingers, took the heart of a goat from a tray,
ate it, and said: "Drive out Silken
Tassel. An evil spirit resides in her. While she is
in the camp, her father will not get up from his
illness. Misfortune will not leave this valley.
Little children will fall asleep forever; their
fathers and grandfathers will die in torment."
The women of
the camp fell down upon the ground in fear. The old
men pressed their hands over their eyes with grief.
The young men looked at Silken Tassel; twice they
turned red, and twice they turned pale.
"Put Silken Tassel into a wooden barrel,"
the shaman boomed. "Bind the barrel with nine
iron hoops. Nail down the bottom with copper nails,
and throw the barrel into the rushing river."
this, mounted his shaggy horse, and rode off to his
own white tent. "Hey!" he shouted to
his slaves. "Go to the river! The water will
bring down a large barrel. Catch it and bring it
here, then run into the woods. If you hear weeping,
do not turn back. If cries and moans spread through
the woods, do not look back. Do not return to my tent
in less than three days."
days and seven nights the people of the encampment
could not bring themselves to carry out the shaman's
orders. For seven days and seven nights they bid the
girl farewell. On the eighth day they put Silken
Tassel into a wooden barrel, bound it with nine iron
hoops, nailed down the bottom with copper nails, and
threw the barrel into the rushing river. On
that day a young fisherman called Balykchi sat on the
steep bank of the river some distance from the camp.
He saw the
barrel, caught it, brought it into his hut, picked up
an axe, and knocked out the bottom. When he saw the
girl, the hand that held the axe dropped, and his
heart leaped like a grasshopper. At last he asked the
is your name?" "Silken
climbed out of the barrel and bowed low to the
fisherman. "Who put you into the
barrel?" "The shaman Teldekpei said
that it must be done." The fisherman
whistled for his dog, fierce as a mountain lion, put
him into the barrel, nailed down the bottom with
copper nails, and let the barrel float downstream.
slaves pulled out the barrel, brought it to the white
birchbark tent, put it before the old wizard, and ran
away into the woods. But even before they
reached the woods, they heard the shaman call:
"Help! Help!" But the slaves did
everything he had bidden. They heard shouts, but did
not turn back. They heard moaning and cries, but did
not look back. For such were their master's
orders. Three days later they returned from the
woods. The shaman lay on the ground, more dead than
alive. His clothes were torn to shreds, his beard was
bloody and tangled, his eyebrows were shaggier than
Torko-Chachak remained with the young fisherman in
the green hut. But Balykchi did not go out fishing
any more. He would pick up the rod and take two steps
toward the river, then look back at the girl on the
threshold, and his feet carried him back to her. He
could not get enough of gazing at Silken Tassel.
And so the
girl took a piece of birchbark and painted her face
on it with the juice of flowers and berries. She
nailed the birchbark to a stick and put the stick
into the ground right by the water. Now the fisherman
was not so lonely by the river. The painted
Torko-Chachak looked at him as if she were alive.
Balykchi looked at the picture and did not notice
when a large fish caught his bait. The rod slipped
from his hand and knocked down the stick, and the
birchbark fell into the water and floated away.
When the girl heard this, she wept and wailed, she
rubbed her brows with her hands, she tangled her
braids with her fingers. "Whoever finds the
birchbark will come here! Hurry, hurry, Balykchi, and
try to catch it! Turn your goatskin coat with the fur
outside, get up on the blue ox, and ride as fast as
he will go along the riverbank."
on his goatskin coat with the fur outside. He mounted
the blue ox and galloped off along the riverbank. But
the painted birchbark floated down and down, faster
and faster. Balykchi could not catch it. The
water brought the birchbark to the mouth of the
river. Here it got tangled in a willow branch and
hung over the rapid current. At the mouth of
that river, the camp of rich and cruel Kara-Khan
spread far and wide over endless fields and meadows.
Innumerable herds of cattle, white and red, were
grazing in the tall grass.
shepherds noticed the white birchbark in the willows.
They came down nearer and stared at it, enchanted.
Their hats were blown off by the wind and floated
down the current. Their herds wandered away and
scattered in the woods.
is this?" thundered Kara-Khan, riding up to his
shepherds. "Hey, lazy good-for-nothings! What
holiday is this? Whose wedding are you
celebrating?" He raised his nine-tailed
lash, but suddenly he saw the birchbark, and the lash
dropped from his hand. A girl looked at him
from the birchbark. Her lips were like a newly opened
scarlet flower, her eyes were like wild cherries, her
brows like two rainbows, her lashes like arrows that
struck the heart.
the birchbark, put it into the bosom of his coat, and
shouted in a terrifying voice: "Hey, you!
Mighty fighters, strong men, warriors, heroes! Get on
your horses at once! If we don't find this girl, I'll
kill you with my spear, I'll shoot you with my
arrows, I'll have you thrown into boiling
water!" He touched the reins and galloped
off upstream. Behind him came an army of warriors,
clanking their heavy armor of red copper and yellow
army rode the stablemen leading a white stallion that
was as fast as thought. At the sight of this
dread army, Silken Tassel did not cry and did not
laugh. Silently she mounted the white stallion with
the pearl-embroidered saddle. And so, without
crying, without laughing, without saying a word to
anyone, without answering anyone, Torko-Chachak sat
in the khan's tent.
one sunny morning, she sprang outside, clapped her
hands, and laughed, and sang! Kara-Khan looked
where she was looking, ran where she was running, and
saw a young man in a goatskin coat turned inside out
mounted on a blue ox. "So it was he who
made you laugh, Silken Tassel? Why, I can do the
same. I can also put on this ragged coat. I can also
mount the blue ox without fear. Then smile as gaily
to me, sing to me as merrily!"
Kara-Khan tore the goatskin coat from Balykchi's
shoulders, went over to the blue ox, picked up the
reins, and put his foot into the iron stirrup.
"Moo-oo! Moo-oo!" bellowed the ox, and,
giving the khan no time to swing his right foot over
the saddle, he dragged him off over the hills and
valleys. Kara-Khan's black cruel liver burst with
shame. His round cruel heart burst with rage.
And Silken Tassel took the poor fisherman Balykchi by
the right hand, and together they returned to their
too, find the happiness they found, for this is the
end of our tale.
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