From the Galpoghor Series:
The Fern Girl
Continued from last week
Opening the door flap shyly, the maid threw the stick outside. When Hara Haan's son saw her he thought she was the loveliest creature he had ever set eyes on. He fell deeply in love with her at once.
Entering the yurta, the young man spoke to old Baiberikeen of his love for her daughter.
'Certainly you may take her as your wife,' the old woman said. 'My bride price is a pair of well-fed oxen and two young mares. Bring them here and you shall have her for your wife.'
The young man hurried home, and came riding back driving a pair of well-fed oxen, two young mares, and a horse for his bridge. And he received his reward. Taking the girl's hand he led her to where his two horses stood.
'You ride on alone,' he said to his bridge. 'I must invite guests to our wedding. Don't worry, I shall shortly overtake you by another track. But mind you follow my directions: as you travel along the eastern road you will come to a parting of the ways- to the east hangs a sable skin, to the west a bear skin. Take the turning by the sable and you will reach my home safely. Should you travel westwards you will come to the house of the daughter of the Devil Abaasy and meet a terrible fate!'
The fern girl adorned herself with fine jewels and dressed in velvet before setting off alone for her husband's home. As she rode along, happy in her thoughts of a contented life with her husband, she missed the parting of the ways and took the westward road marked by the beat skin. On and on she went until finally she arrived at the house of the Devil's daughter.
'Old Baiberikeen's daughter is evidently on he way to the home of her husband, the son of Hara Haan,' muttered the Abassy girl. 'And she has decided to pay me her respects on the way. Hey there, fern girl, come and rest in my house.'
The fern girl was too afraid to refuse and she followed the Abaasy girl into the house and sat down at the table, as she was bid. The Devil's daughter brought human flesh from the left and from the right of the room, and put it in a pot to boil. When the meal was ready, she set it before the fern girl who made as if she were eating, but thrust the boiled flesh quickly on to the floor.
'Ah, my dear,' said the Devil's daughter, 'I see old Baiberikeen has dressed you in fine clothes and beautiful jewellery. Take them off, my child, for me to try.'
The fern girl did as she was told.
When the Abaasy girl had put on the clothes and jewels, she suddenly seized the maid by her hair, stripped the skin from off her head and face and put it over her own. Then she led her to the left and he fern girl felt she was walking on a dried skin; it gave way beneath her and she fell into a dark cellar.
Then, the Abaasy girl seated herself on the waiting horse and rode off to Hara Haan's house.
Meanwhile, in the bridgegroom's camp, preparations were underway for the wedding ceremony. Meat was simmering in giant pots and all the eating vessels were being washed in the stream. Now and then, boys and girls would run out of Hara Haan's tent to watch out for the bride's coming.
'She's coming, she's coming!' they shouted at last, running into the tent.
Old Hara Haan then said wisely, 'Note well where the bride tethers her horse. If she is a good and able woman she will tie her horse to the last post; should she be bad and artful she will tie it to the first. Let us see.'
The bride arrived, dismounted and tethered her horse to the first post. Her husband came towards her and led her by the hand to his father's tent. And the wedding feast began.
At dusk the whole gathering lay down to sleep. The young man caressed his wife but her skin was hard and scaly.
'My dear, why is your skin so hard and scaly?' he asked.
'Oh, when I was small, old Baiberikeen made me wear a heavy necklace which rubbed against my skin and made it rough,' she replied.
Then the husband caressed his wife's head, and the head was hard and lumpy to his touch.
'My dear, why is your head so hard and lumpy?" he asked.
'Because my mother made me wear a heavy headdress when I was young, and that creased and roughened my scalp,' she replied.He touched his wife's hands and they were rough and crooked.
'My dear, why are your hands so rough and crooked?' he asked.
'Oh, my mother always put rings on my fingers and they were down my hands,' she replied.
So the night went by and the days passed in the unfortunate household.
Whenever the new wife cooked a meal, the food turned sour; the taste was so unpleasant that the family could not eat it. The calves she tended grew hunched and died in their cribs. The little foals she fed grew crooked and died in their stables. When she went to milk the cows, their udders withered and became covered in sores and the milk turned sour. If she knitted anything, the garment came apart at the seams. All that she touched went away.
With every day that passed, Hara Haan lost more animals. All that lived withered and he grew poorer and poorer.
In the meantime, not far from these misfortunes, lived old woman Baiberikeen, lonely as before. One night she had a dream: she dreamed that her dear daughter had lost her way, arrived at the house of the Devil's daughter and was even now lying in the cellar there. She tried to think of a meaning to her dream.
In the end she could not, so she set out for the house she had seen in her dream, and finally arrived there. But nobody was home. The fire on the hearth had gone out. The ash in the stove was cold. Yet from somewhere below she heard the faint sound of sobbing. To the left of the room old Baiberikeen suddenly noticed a hole and it was from there that the sounds of weeping came.
'Who is there?' she asked, peering down into the cellar. 'Mother, help me, pull me out,' came her daughter's voice. 'The Devil's daughter threw me down here; she took my clothes, my hair and the skin of my face, put them all on herself and rode off on my horse. Help me out, Mother.'
The old woman fetched a rope, let it down and pulled up her daughter from the cellar. Together they returned home and it was not long before the girl had quite recovered and was even more lovely than before.
Not it came to the ears of Hara Haan, told to him by his dappled mare, that old Baiberikeen had another daughter. So the father told his son this news and put to him the following question, 'My son, do you know the origin of your woman?'
And the son replied, 'There is in the upper world, beyond the third sky, a younger brother of the White Creator Lord who collects all the migrating birds. It was his daughters, the seven maidens that turned into seven cranes, who came down to a round meadow and danced upon the earth. And with them came their nurse, the Lady Jayehait who chose the best of the seven cranes and said "You are to remain in this unclean middle world; you are destined for the son of Hara Haan, you will become a human, bear children and tend cattle." With that the nurse cut off her wings.
'Of course, the maiden wept and pleaded. But it was no use. "Turn into a fern and grow," said the nurse. "The old woman, mistress of five cows, will find the fern and, once you have turned into a human child and grown up, she will
wed you to the son of Hara Haan."
'So I took what was destined to be mine. And now I must live with her despite her evil ways.'
But his father urged him to pay another visit to Old Baiberikeen to see her new daughter.
So the young man said to his wife, 'Let us go and pay your mother a visit.'
'Why should we travel so far? And at harvest time, she objected. 'I certainly will not go.'
Several times he tried to persuade her and at last she gave in reluctantly. Having prepared some gifts, the son-in-law and his wife set out to visit the old woman. They arrived to find the mother and her new daughter at home.
As soon as he set eyes on Baiberikeen's daughter, the young man was astonished to find that her face and beauty were exactly those of the maid he had sought to marry. Looking from her to his wife, he now saw how ugly his wife had become.
They had their supper and were about to lie down to sleep when Baiberikeen's new daughter said she would like to tell a story.
'Keep your stories to yourself, said the Abaasy girl. 'I'm tired.' And she pretended to fall asleep.
'Well then, sleep,' her husband said, 'and we'll listen to the story. Please proceed with your tale.'
'Not many days past,' the fern girl began, 'a handsome young man took a bride. Seating her upon a horse, he sent her on alone, himself riding by another route to invite friends to the wedding. But the girl, instead of travelling stright to her new home, missed her turning and arrived at the house of the Devil's daughter. That Abaasy girl tricked the young girl, undressed her, stripped the skin from her face and cast her into the cellar. Then the Devil's daughter put on the girl's fine clothes, pulled on her skin, mounted her horse and rode to the father-in-law's home. In his eagerness, the husband did not recognise the Devil's daughter, made her his wife and began to live with her. That poor girl who lay helpless in the cellar was later rescued by her mother and nursed back to health.'
The young man could restrain himself no longer. Springing up he roused his wife, the Devil's daughter.
'You evil sorceress,' he cried. 'Truly, I did not recognise you as the Abaasy girl you are and I married you in error. Shall I make you food for my sharp sword and cut out your black heart? Or shall I tie you to the tail of a wild horse and set it loose across the plain?"
'Do not cut out my heart with your sword,' pleaded the Abaasy girl. 'Rather tie me to a horse's tail and set it loose across the plain.'
So the young man bound the Abaasy girl by her neck to the tail of a wild horse and slapped the horse's flanks. In its fear, the horse raced across the plain, dragging the evil wife behind and trampling on her with flying hoofs, making food for the sun and the moon out of her carcass. Finally, it crushed her skull and kicked out her evil eyes.
'May the pupils of my eyes turn into frosty stars in the cold sky of winter,' said the Abaasy girl, cursing them all. 'And may my bones become snakes to suck the blood of little children.'
Meanwhile, the son of Hara Haan, having found his real wife, was full of remorse for the harm he had caused her.
'My own true bride,' he said with trembling voice, 'I have brought you much horror and grief. In my stupidity, I wed the Devil's daughter blinded by my love for you. Please forgive me.'
All was well. He was forgiven and a new wedding was held just as soon as he brought his true bride home.
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