" Ak Chechek - White Flower,"
a story from the Altai People,
translated by Kira Van Deusen.
(This story does not appear in any of her books.)

In the place where nine rivers flowed together into one, at the foot of nine mountains you could hear the sound of the powerful branches of a black cedar. A long long time ago a small hut stood under its silken needles, leaning against its strong trunk.

In the hut lived an old man, yellowed with age as if he were cured by the smoke. The old man had three granddaughters, each one more beautiful thanthe other.

The old man went out for firewood. He went up the wooded mountainside and saw a larch tree with black branches.

"This tree is dried out at the root. I'll hit it just once and it will fall over."

The old man took from his belt an ax as sharp as a young moon, he struck the trunk with the blade, and suddenly, who knows from where, out jumped a
terrible beast. He grabbed the old man's arm in his teeth.

"Oi, oi," cried the old man, "Let me go, let me go. I'll give you whatever you want."

"All right," answered the beast in a human voice, "Give me your favorite granddaughter."

The old man came home and spoke to his oldest granddaughter. "Won't you marry this beast? I gave my word."

The girl looked around and saw the beast.

"I would rather throw myself in the water," she said.

The old man asked the second girl.

"I would rather hang myself."

"And you, Ak-Chechek, my white flower, won't you agree?"

The youngest granddaughter lifted her head. Her round eyes were full of tears.

"What is promised must be carried out. What must be, will be."

And the beast took the girl away, along the valleys, over the hills, across the rivers and through the forests.

They came to a golden clearing where the larch trees were always green, where the bright spring burbled without ceasing, where the cuckoo sang all year round. At the edge of this clearing, right beside a blue mountain Ak-Chechek saw seven hills transparent as eternal-blue ice.

The beast went up to the middle hill, and struck it with his paw - a door opened in the ice hill and a high white palace opened before them. Ak-Chechek went in. On the tables were painted cups with food. On the walls hung two stringed topshurs and silver svilryel-shoors. They rang out by themselves and unseen singers sang songs. They didn't reply to any greeting, they didn't call back.

Ak-Chechek began to live in the blue hill in the palace white as ice.

There was no one inside, and outside lay the terrible beast, guarding the girl by day and night.

When Ak-Chechek was living in her poor hut she had greeted the dawn with a song, and she accompanied the evening twilight with a story. Now she had
no one to laugh with, there was no one to speak a word to.

Her older sisters both married fine hunters. Then, one time they thought to go and visit little Ak-Chechek.

"If she has died, we will weep for her and sing a song. If she is alive we will bring her home."

They prepared for the road, cooking fat meat, placing archimaki in their traveling bags. They brewed arak and poured it into big skins. They saddled their horses and set off on their way.

The terrible beast heard the clatter of hooves, he saw the two sisters on their spirited horses. The beast struck with his paw and the sparkling ice palace turned into a pitiful hut. On the bare earth were shabby animal hides and beside the fire was a blackened wooden cup.

Ak-Chechek came out of the hut and bowed down low before her sisters.

"You are our dear Ak-Chechek," cried her sisters, "You shouldn't have listened to our grandfather. Get up onto this horse, wave your whip and even a quick-winged bird will not be able to catch up with you."

"I will not break my word," spoke Ak-Chechek.

"You were born unlucky, White Flower," sighed her sisters. "Your pride will make you die here in this dirty hut."

Thus, lamenting and grieving, the sisters ate the meat they had brought with them, they drank the arak, kissed Ak-Chechek, and got on their horses and rode home.

And the terrible beast struck with his paw. The hut disappeared and in its place the palace appeared, more beautiful than before.

And then the Khan of that land began to think the time had come for his oldest son to marry. He ordered all the people to come to the wedding feast. Even Ak-Chechek heard about the festivities; even Ak-Chechek was invited to this great toi (festival).

She wept. For the first time she moaned.

"Now I will not sing, now I will no longer dance at festivals."

The terrible beast came up to her and spoke in a human voice.

"I have thought long, my quiet Ak-Chechek, what to give you, how to reward you," and he lay at her feet a golden key. "Open the big chest."

Ak-Chechek opened the diamond lock with the golden key. The forged cover opened. Like cedar nuts the chest was strewn with silver and gold adornments. She plunged her hands into the chest and they sank into soft clothes as if in white foam.

Ak-Chechek spent a long time dressing, selecting things. But even if she had made no choice in dressing, all the same there would have been no one on earth more beautiful than she.

Ak-Chechek stepped over the threshold and there at the door stood a velvety black horse. The bridle was decorated with pearl, the silver saddle shone milky white, silk and pearl tassels hung to the ground.

In clothing white as the early morning Ak-Chechek rode quickly on her velvety black horse. She crossed the high mountains, she forded the rapid rivers. Behind her, Ak-Chechek heard the pounding of hooves and she heard a deep, resonant voice singing a gentle song.

"If I scoop up water in my stirrup,
will you take a sip?
If I wait at the distance of a day's travel,
Will you come?"

Ak-Chechek turned around and she saw a young man. He was on a pearl-white steed, he was wearing a coat covered with black silk and on his head a high sable hat. His face was round and rosy like the evening moon, his black brows were of such beauty that it cannot be told.

"Dyakshi-ba, how do you live?" the horseman greeted her.

"Dyakshi, I live well," answered Ak-Chechek. "Slerde dyakshi-ba, and how are you?" and she could not hear her own words.

Her heart felt as if it were pierced with a needle, frost ran along her skin. She could not raise her eyes. She looked down and saw that the young man's feet were in stirrups, big ones made of brass. Like overturned cups, the stirrups were deep, shining like two small suns.

Ak-Chechek and the horseman arrived at the great feast at the same time.

The women looked at the young man without blinking. They forgot to take the meat out of tepshi-pans, the cups of arak got cold in their hands. The men looked at Ak-Chechek without breathing, their songs broke off, their pipes went out.

The grandfather and the two sisters were at the feast. They saw the young man and sighed.

"If only our dear Ak-Chechek lived with us, this fine fellow would be her bridegroom," said the oldest sister.

"If Ak-Chechek had come to this feast, she would not have returned to the beast," said the second.

They did not recognize their own Ak-Chechek in her bright clothes. And Ak- Chechek herself did not dare to approach them.

The sun hid behind the mountain. Ak-Chechek got on her velvety-black horse. She pulled the reins to herself, quietly looked around, glancing at the young man, she let her eyes down and whipped the horse.

When Ak-Chechek had already gone half of the way back she heard the pounding of hooves, and she heard again the same voice, soft, thick, singing the same song:

"If I scoop up the water with my stirrups,
If I bring water in my palms,
Will you drink it?
If I die at the distance of a month,
Will you remember?"

"Did you have a good time?" Ak-Chechek heard.

Her tender face became white as dried wood. She could not speak, she even dropped the reins. The young man was catching up with her. There, he came even with her. Ak- Chechek hurried her horse. She rode on without looking back.

She hurried to the blue hill, to the golden door.

"Greetings!" said the terrible beast in a human voice. "Did you have a good time at the feast? What kind of people did you see there?"

"Whether the holiday was good, I don't know. There were so many people I couldn't count them. At the great Khan's feast I saw only one person and I only thought of him. He rode on a pearl-white steed, he wore a coat of black silk, a high sable hat was on his head.

The terrible beast shook himself. His black skin fell off with a ringing sound. The one Ak-Chechek had been thinking about all day was standing before her.

"My dear Ak-Chechek, white flower! Seven years I have been a terrible beast. It is you who have made me human. You have taken off the evil sorcery with your faithfulness, you have broken the evil spell."

And the topshurs and the shoors rang out, the unseen singers laughed and cried, making a great song. Our Kaichi-singers caught the song and brought it to us with love.

Kira Van Deusen has graciously offered this tale. This is what she says of the story, "It comes from the Altai people, who live in the mountains of the same
name in southern Siberia. I translated it from *Skazki narodov sibiri* [Tales of the Peoples of Siberia] Novosibirsk: West-Siberian Book Publishers 1984."

She also mentions, "I think 'Ak-Chechek' is like this: 'Ak' with 'a' as in 'father;' 'Chechek' sort of rhymes with 'paycheck,' making the 'a' a bit shorter."

Here is a bibliography of her books and translations:

Van Deusen, Kira. (kiravan@imag.net). The Flying Tiger, Women Shamans and Storytellers of the Amur. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press. 2001.

________. Fox Mischief. Bellingham: Ugadan Books. 1998.

________. The Raven and The Rock: Storytelling in Chukotka. Seattle: University of Washington Press. 1999.

_________. Shyann am! Tuvan Folk Tales. Bellingham: Ugadan Books. 1996.

__________. Woman of Steel. Bellingham: Ugadan Books. 2000