Blesok no. 32, May-June, 2003

The Khan's Victory

Petar Kostov

     The historical facts about the event have merged with things said by the wind that blows across the endless Tartar steppes; of course, it is another name for legend, a synonym. So, the legend reverts two or three centuries, unlike history. For the sake of truth, because even if the historical facts are certain, many centuries have passed since then. However, the following persons are always mentioned as the main actors in the event: the old Khan—Kudzaj Khan; the young Khan—Chibu Khan; the beautiful Prichu—the youngest and most desirable wife of the old Khan; and the still nameless poet. But some details concerning the actors do not match. Thus, in places Kudzaj Khan is said to be very old, elsewhere that he had reached maturity. Likewise, it is said that he was a handsome Tartar, but the opposite as well—that he was ugly, even crippled. On the other hand, it is always said that Chibu Khan was handsome and young, even very young, that “the black moss under his nose had just started to thicken, becoming as black as his eyes.” The discrepancies concerning the beautiful Prichu have to do with the color of her eyes; they are referred to as either “green as the grass of the steppes in springtime” or “blue as the sky above the steppes on a summer morning.” But regardless of these differing accounts, oral or written, she is very young and undoubtedly the greatest beauty on the entire Tartar steppes. And finally, returning to the two Khans, the following discrepancy also exists: they sometimes are said to be brothers, sometimes half-brothers. And then there is this: though the poet is sometimes just a poet, on other occasions he is both a poet and a musician, even a jester, clown, or fool; but he is always nameless… However, it is understandable that there are these and other differences related to the time the event occurred, or to its actors, because the few accounts of this distant time come from different chroniclers, from varying distances, and the legend woven of the steppe wind is just the same—inconsistent.
     THE BATTLE. The event was preceded by the battle between the old Khan and the young Khan. It began just before dawn—a time dark enough to remain hidden from the enemy, but light enough to see and destroy the enemy. It was autumn, the middle of autumn, to be precise. And because the attackers were soldiers of Chibu Khan, they started the battle, after spending the whole night approaching the camp of Kudzaj Khan’s army. So the opponent was completely taken by surprise. The cavalry came first, in a galloping gale. Those attacked heard only the thunder of hooves and the blows of the curved Tartar swords on the surprised army of the old Khan. Right after the horsemen, the infantry also rushed in, and with their swords and spears joined in the “work.” The completely surprised enemy cried out in confusion even more, in unintelligible sounds, until they became quiet, defeated. Then the loud victorious cheers of the victors were heard celebrating the young Chibu Khan and his triumph. That same day the steppe wind broadcast news of Chibu Khan's victory and Kudzaj Khan's defeat across the endless Tartar steppes.
     AFTER THE BATTLE. The legends and chronicles are identical in the following ways: the old Khan, Kudzaj Khan, was wounded and captured, imprisoned and taken to the victor, Chibu Khan; and on special orders of the young Khan, the beautiful Prichu was found and brought to him. Meanwhile, the victors held a great celebration; the silence in which they finished “the job” turned into an eruption of victorious shouts, drinking, delirium, and “all manner of licentiousness,” until noon. Then Chibu Khan ordered that it all cease, as if sliced off with a knife. There was quiet again. In that silence, the old Khan was publicly executed. A strong Tartar with a great curved Tartar sword decapitated him on a stump, after he had refused to beg for mercy from the young Khan—his brother or half-brother. Before the executioner lifted the curved sword over him, he spoke briefly: “One master is better than two for the country… Chibu Khan, my brother, I want to be buried on our steppes.” All this time, the beautiful, young Prichu, the youngest and most beloved wife of the defeated old Khan, stood next to Chibu Khan. Nothing could be read on her beautiful face, neither in her green nor sky-blue eyes. And before and during the execution of the Khan, dark autumn clouds descended from the sky above the camp and above the steppes. Some rain came down, mixed with a strong wind.
     CELEBRATION. There was a celebration on the occasion of the victory. The evening arrived quickly and quietly after the afternoon storm, which lasted only briefly. The evening arrived quickly and quietly because the preparations for the celebration were great and varied, and time was short. A huge tent was erected for the purpose. The weather changed unexpectedly: even stars appeared in the sky, sparkling like glittering jewels. And the spacious tent looked “magical,” both according to the stories and according to the chronicles. Receiving special mention are the games and competitions, followed by music and song, the enchanting dances of the young dancers, the wrestling skill of the muscular young men, and the dangerous but skillful contests with curved Tartar daggers… Concerning the people in attendance there are no differences in the accounts. Besides Chibu Khan, court and military noblemen are also mentioned, but also a certain number of regular warriors—distinguished participants in the battle. There are differences between the written and oral accounts only about certain people present: the poet (sometimes referred to as the Khan’s jester, singer, and musician) and Prichu. Prichu was dressed in silk decorated with diamonds, and around her neck she also wore a diamond necklace—all gifts from Chibu Khan. She looked more beautiful than ever. On the other hand, it is said that she sat at the Khan’s feet, but one reads that she actually sat next to him, that the poet sat at his feet. However, the accounts correspond in one particular: the poet, or the singer and musician-poet, but also a jester or clown, looked “joyless” during the celebration (this is the expression most often used). Had he become fatigued in the course of the afternoon, because on orders of his master, Chibu Khan, “he was supposed to entertain Prichu” until evening? The young Khan, on the other hand, seemed to be in an unusually good mood. And on the face of the young and beautiful Prichu, and in her eyes, nothing specific could be read. And he and she were supposed to spend the rest of the night after the celebration in his tent… The celebration ended before midnight. Then Chibu Khan stood and left for his tent with Prichu. The poet then began to laugh for the first time, but in a strange way; some thought that he was really crying… The sky above the camp and above the steppes was starry, but the sparkle of the stars was strange, somehow diminished, darkened.
     IN CHIBU KHAN’S TENT. The written descriptions are short, and perhaps because of this they are thoroughly melodramatic, unlike the legends, where the melodrama is converted into pathos. However, a short part of a longer description seems most striking. It says: “… Prichu entered the tent first, and she changed into a nightgown of pure white silk, like a bride, and her naked body flashed for a moment. Then she lay on the soft, wide bed…” A bit later the young and handsome Chibu Khan entered the tent and stepped lightly towards the bed. At that moment Prichu’s right hand rose, the blade of a knife shone in it, and the next moment she stabbed herself in the heart. A red rose appeared on the white silk nightgown, the only sign that the young and beautiful Prichu was dead… Just before that she said: “My lord, I want to be buried next to Kudzaj Khan. A wife belongs with her husband.”
     IN PLACE OF AN EPILOGUE. The same chronicle's description also reads: “… The dagger was small, with a silver handle, but it was long enough to reach the base of Prichu’s heart, and it belonged to the poet, or the singer and musician, but also jester, clown and fool. Immediately brought before Chibu Khan, he said that when he was with her in the afternoon, he had given it to her upon her request.
     “With which hand?” Chibu Khan asked.
     “With my left one,” he answered.
     Chibu Khan asked nothing more, neither did he offer an explanation. But, after the brief dialogue, the young Khan issued some orders: Kudzaj Khan and Prichu should be buried in the same grave, out on the steppes, and the left hand of the poet should be severed and buried with them… Then the poet, or singer and musician, but also jester, clown and fool, offered his head. Chibu Khan looked toward the steppes and said: “… a brother can be killed, but not a poet…” (It seems that for Chibu Khan he was still a poet.) Then he added quietly, more to himself than anyone: “Allah, have I won today, or was I defeated? Actually, he asked this question while looking toward his native steppes… The same day his orders were carried out: Kudzaj Khan and Prichu were buried far out on the steppes, and the severed left hand of poet was buried with them…”
     Since that time the steppe wind has waved the grasses above them, but as the chronicles also say of the event and its actors, especially during the night, the long steppe nights.

Translated by Elizabeta Bakovska

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