Written by Raffi in 1878
Translated and Annotated by
Beyon Miloyan and Kimberley McFarlane
The month of July was nearing its end. Bayazit had been besieged, destroyed, and plundered, and had come under the control of Kurds and freebooters1. The Russians only regained control after the city’s inhabitants faced the sword or fell into captivity. Suleyman Pasha2 had retreated. Jalaleddin’s thugs were scattered, and with valuable spoils in their possession, they were ready to withdraw. The whole province of old Bagrevand3 and historic Vagharshakert4 had been cleared of their inhabitants. The migrants had become beggars in Yerevan as the ruins they left behind still smoldered.
The twilight was playing upon the mountaintops.
A young man walked slowly by himself on a mountain trail singing a sad song in a low, melancholy voice. He was walking aimlessly, as if he did not know where he was going and was not entirely sure whether he would achieve the completely selfless objective that he had set out to accomplish. Suddenly, there was a noise behind him:
“Who are you? Pull back.”
The wanderer stopped singing, put his rifle over his shoulder, looked back and saw a man on horseback approaching.
“Pass,” he replied.
The rider approached, greeted him and asked, “Be well. Where to?”
“All is well, praise to God,” the traveler replied. “I am Jaffar-Bey’s shepherd, our camp is not far from here. One of our mares got lost this evening and I am trying to find her.” Then he asked the rider, “And where, may God succeed, are you going?”
“To the Sheikh’s army, to deliver a letter.”
“Suleyman Pasha. Things are going poorly near Kars5. The Pasha said, ‘Whoever can deliver this letter to the Sheikh in the next two days will receive a desirable gift and khalat6.’ I approached and said, ‘Let me be the soil beneath your feet. I will do the deed, my Arabian steed flies like a sparrow.’ He put his arm around my back, said ‘BRAVO,’ and handed me the letter.”
“Where is the Sheikh now?”
“I asked and was told that he is staying nearby in the bloody canyon7,” the horseman replied. “How do you not know?”
“How is a mountain shepherd to know these things? All we see every day are people coming and going, but no one has any information.”
“Do you have a light?” the horseman asked. “I lost the stone for my light and I haven’t had a smoke all day. My head feels like a pumpkin.”
“You will find it,” the shepherd replied, pulled out a flint and steel, and started hitting the steel against his firestone.
The rider leaned down, held out his pipe, took the flint and lit the tobacco. The shepherd had a good look at the rider’s face. The rider thanked the shepherd and resumed his journey, smoking his pipe.
The rider had traveled barely ten steps when the rifle exploded from behind him and he fell from the horse. The frightened horse started to bolt; one of the dead man’s feet remained stuck in its stirrup, so he was dragged with it. The excited horse galloped for a while until its saddle rotated beneath its stomach and it was forced to stop. The killer approached, held the horse, and started searching the dead man, whose body had been greatly damaged from being dragged along the rocks. He found the letter addressed to the Sheikh, hid it in his breast pocket, and threw the body in a ditch. He then fixed the horse’s saddle before he set off at a gallop toward the bloody canyon, where Jalaleddin’s army was camped.
The sun had already set when the killer reached the Sheikh’s army, but it was not yet completely dark. He took the letter out of his pocket and stuffed it under his turban, so that it was slightly sticking out underneath. The letter, which was enveloped in the customary way, was wrapped within an outer layer of paper and rolled up like a pipe.
“Who are you?” one of the guardians of Jalaleddin’s army asked.
“A messenger,” he replied, and assertively rode his horse up to the Sheikh’s tent.
That was Město.
- The opening paragraph of Chapter 10 refers to the events of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.
- Suleyman Pasha was the chief commander of the Ottoman Army in the Balkan Peninsula during the war.
- Bagrevand was a historic region of Armenia to the northwest of Lake Van.
- Vagharshakert refers to the city of Alashkert, now Eleşkirt in modern Turkey.
- Kars is a part of historic Armenia, now a province in northeastern Turkey, sharing a border with Armenia.
- Khalat is clothing bestowed or received as a reward.
- Bloody canyon is a translation of the Turkish “Kanli-Dere” that Raffi originally used here.