Ermagambet

In very far-away times lived a very wealthy, but childless Kazakh man. The khan, one day, married off his daughter and on this occasion organized a big toi*. He only invited the family men on this toi: childless people weren't ordered to come to the celebration.

The guests started to arrive. The childless Kazakh did come to the feast. He brought with himself a lot of kumys* on seven camels. But the khan didn't allow him in. Enraged, the Kazakh poured all his kumys on the ground and went back home.

Once home, he slaughtered an ox, sacrificed it to Allah, and then went with his wife to seek children. In the evening, they stopped near a grave and spent the night. His wife dreamt of a man who asked her how many children she'd like to have: a hundred or one. She replied that one would be more than enough. In the morning, she told her husband about the dream. The couple went back home and the wife gave birth to a son months later, who they named Ermagambet.


Ermagambet grew up quickly. When he was six, he already hunted wild animals. One day, as he returned home from hunting with his friends, a man med them and told Ermagambet:

- Your mother had a daughter, but your parents want to kill her.

Ermagambet quickly galloped back home to the aul*. He came home, got into the carriage and asked his parents for permission to get a look at his sister. Ermagambet took her, jumped on his horse and disappeared into the steppe.


They started to live together. The brother hunted; the sister quickly grew up and became very beautiful. One day, she went for water and saw a floating log in the river. She decided to write a note and to put it in the middle of the log. She wrote:

"I'm a very beautiful girl. I've got no one around, except my brother."

She then pushed the log away and it floated further.


The log floated for a long time, but finally washed up to the bank. At this moment, a Kazakh woman was washing her laundry. She saw the log.

- Oh well, I'll pull it out - she said - it's going to make good firewood.

She pulled out the log, brought it home, and when she began to chop it into pieces, the note fell out of it. The woman took the note and went to show it to a literate man. He read it, kept it, and delivered it to the khan on the next day.


The khan read the note and went in search of this beautiful girl, taking with him a whole escort of servants. In the steppe, they met Ermagambet.

The khan asked him:

- If this is your sister, do you agree to make her my wife, or do you want me to take her by force?

Ermagambet snapped at the khan, beat him up along with his servants, and then went back to his yurt. When he got in, he immediately fell into a deep sleep. When the sister saw that her brother was sleeping, she took her horse and went to walk in the steppe. Climbing up on a mountain, she saw many dead bodies. She decided to look for survivors among them and found one. She brought him back to the yurt and hid him in a chest. This man, turns out, was the khan himself. When her brother went hunting, she freed the khan and had a talk with him.

The khan and the beautiful girl fell in love with each other and decided to eliminate Ermagambet, but how? Thinking and thinking, the girl said:

- I'll pretend to be sick and ask my brother to go to a faraway land to find me a healer.

The brother returned from hunting. The girl laid in bed, pretending to be sick.

- Listen, brother - she said - somewhere there is someone who can heal. Go, bring him to me, I'm sick.

Ermagambet felt bad for his sister. He said goodbye to her and went on a long journey.


Riding around, Ermagambet came across a pauper's yurt. Inside lived an old lady. She asked the dzhigit* where he was going, and when she found out, she started trying to talk him out of it. But Ermagambet insisted on his way and asked the old lady to show him the way to the healer. She agreed and said:

- The door that leads to this healer opens exactly at noon. Only at this moment you can get him.

Ermagambet did just that: exactly at noon he went up to the door, took the healer with him, and returned to the old lady. He spent the night at her place. While he was sleeping, the old lady replaced the healer with a regular man. Ermagambet didn't notice it and in the morning, he went back to his sister's home. He entered the yurt and saw that she was just fine.


The brother, again, went out to hunt, but the sister and khan had planned all details of his murder. She then said to the khan:

- When my brother will return, I'll ask him to play. I'll tie his hands and you'll kill him at this moment.

The brother returned. The sister asked him to play, and he accepted. The girl tied his hands, but he freed himself quite easily. Finally, she asked him how she could tie him in such a way that he wouldn't untie his hands. Ermagambet said that he had a tiger skin belt. His sister took that belt, used it to tie her brother's hands, and then gave the khan a sword:

- Now you can kill him!...

But the khan was terrified. He couldn't fulfil her request. She then decided to do it herself, but her brother said:

- You can kill me, sister, but I'll make one request: when you kill me, put my body in a bag, tie it to my horse's saddle and free it into the steppe.

She did as he asked. The horse ran off into the steppe and went to the old lady who had replaced the healer. She revived Ermagambet by various means. He thanked her and went back to his sister, whom he caught with the khan. Ermagambet killed his sister and took the khan to his father, back to the aul.


Ermagambet's father rejoiced at the return of his son, arranged for a toi, and killed the khan as a revenge for not letting him go to his daughter's wedding.



*toi: traditional Kazakh wedding
*kumys: fermented mare's milk, the equivalent of the mongolian airag. Very popular drink among Central Asian peoples, although maybe real kumys is probably not as common today. (also spelled koumiss)
*aul: Kazakh village
*dzhigit: historically a brave and skilled rider. In our days, fun fact, it's also the Kazakh word for boyfriend (жігіт), but the word itself means "rider" or "young man".

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