Kotura, Lord of the Winds
A Siberian Tale
In a nomad camp in the wilds of the far North lived an old man with his three daughters. The man was very poor. His tent barely kept out the icy wind and driving snow. And when the frost was keen enough to bite their naked hands and faces, the three daughters huddled together round the fire. As they lay down to sleep at night, their father would rake through the ashes; and then they would shiver throughout the long cold night till morning.
One day, in the depths of winter, a snowstorm blew up and raged across the tundra. It whipped through the camp the first day, then the second, and on into the third. There seemed no end to the driving snow and fierce wind. No one dared show his face outside his tent and families sat fearful in their tents, hungry and cold, fearing that the camp would be blown clean away.
The old man and his daughters crouched in their tent harking to the howling of the blizzard, and the father said: "If the storm continues for much longer, we shall all die for certain. It was sent by Kotura, Lord of the Winds. He must be very angry with us. There's only one way to appease him and save the camp: we must send him a wife from our clan. You, my eldest daughter, must go to Kotura and beg him to halt the blizzard."
"But how am I to go?" asked the girl, in alarm. "I do not know the way."
"I shall give you a sled," said her father. "Turn your face into the north wind, push the sled forward and follow wherever it leads. The wind will tear open the strings that bind your coat; yet you must not stop to tie them. The snow will fill your shoes; yet you must not stop to shake it out. Continue on your way until you arrive at a steep hill; when you have climbed to the top, only then may you halt to shake the snow from your shoes and do up your coat.
"Soon, a little bird will perch on your shoulder. Do not brush him away, be kind and caress him gently. Then jump on to your sled and let it run down the other side of the hill. It will take you straight to the door of Kotura's tent. Enter and touch nothing; just sit patiently and wait until he comes. And do exactly as he tells you."
Eldest daughter put on her coat, turned the sled into the north wind and sent it gliding along before her.
She followed on foot and after a while the strings on her coat came undone, the swirling snow squeezed into her shoes and she was very, very cold. However, she did not heed her father's words: she stopped and began to tie the strings of her coat, to shake the snow from her shoes. That done, she moved on into the face of the north wind.
On and on through the snow she went until at last she came to a steep hill. And when she finally reached the top, a little bird flew down and would have alighted on her shoulder had she not waved her hands to shoo him away. Alarmed, the bird fluttered up and circled above her three times before flying off.
Eldest daughter sat on her sled and rode down the hillside until she arrived at a giant tent. Straightaway she entered and glanced about her; and the first thing that met her gaze was a fat piece of roast venison. Being hungry from her journey, she made a fire, warmed herself and warmed the meat on the fire. Then she tore off pieces of fat from the meat: she tore off one piece and ate it, then tore off another and ate that too, and another until she had eaten her fill. Just as all the fat was eaten, she heard a noise behind her and a handsome young giant entered.
It was Kotura himself.
He gazed at eldest daughter and said in his booming voice: "Where are you from, girl? Why are you here?"
"My father sent me," replied the girl, "to be your wife."
Kotura frowned, fell silent, then sighed. "I've brought home some meat from hunting. Set to work and cook it for me."
Eldest daughter did as he said, and when the meat was cooked, Kotura bade her divide it in two.
"You and I will eat one part," he said. "The remainder you will take to my neighbor. But heed my words well: do not go into her tent. Wait outside until the old woman emerges. Give her the meat and wait for her to return the empty dish."
Eldest daughter took the meat and went out into the dark night. The wind was howling and the blizzard raging so wildly she could hardly see a thing before her. She struggled on a little way, then came to a halt and tossed the meat into the snow That done, she returned to Kotura with the empty dish.
The giant looked at her keenly and said: "Have you done as I said?"
"Certainly," replied the girl.
"Then show me the dish, I wish to see what she gave you in return," he said.
Eldest daughter showed him the empty dish. Kotura was silent. He ate his share of the meat hurriedly and lay down to sleep. At first light he rose, brought some untanned deer hides into the tent and said: "While I hunt, I want you to clean these hides and make me a coat, shoes and mittens from them. I shall try them on when I get back and judge whether you are as clever with your hands as you are with your tongue."
With those words, Kotura went off into the tundra. And eldest daughter set to work. By and by an old woman covered in snow came into the tent.
"I have something in my eye, child," she said. "Please remove it for me."
"I've no time. I'm too busy," answered eldest daughter.
The old Snow Woman said nothing, turned away and left the tent. Eldest daughter was left alone. She cleaned the hides hastily and began cutting them roughly with a knife, hurrying to get her tasks done by nightfall. Indeed, she was in such a rush that she did not even try to shape the garments properly; she was intent only on finishing her work as quickly as possible.
Late that evening, the young giant, Lord of the Winds, returned.
"Are my clothes ready?" he asked at once.
"They are," eldest daughter replied. Kotura took the garments one by one, and ran his hands carefully over them: the hides were rough to the touch so badly were they cleaned, so poorly were they cut, so carelessly were they sewn together. And they were altogether too small for him.
At that he flew into a rage, picked up eldest daughter and flung her far, far into the dark night. She landed in a deep snowdrift and lay there without moving until she froze to death.
And the howling of the wind became even fiercer.
Back in the camp, the old father sat in his tent and harkened to the days blown over by the northern winds. Finally, in deep despair, he said to his two remaining daughters: "Eldest daughter did not heed my words, I fear. That is why the wind is still shrieking and roaring its anger. Kotura is in a terrible temper. You must go to him, second daughter."
The old man made a sled, instructed the girl as he had her sister, and sent her on her way. Second daughter pointed the sled into the north wind and, giving it a push, walked along behind it. The strings of her coat came undone and the snow forced its way into her shoes. Soon she was numb with cold and, heedless of her father's warning, she shook the snow from her shoes and tied the strings of her coat sooner than she was instructed.
She came to the steep hill and climbed to the top. There, seeing the little bird fluttering towards her, she waved her hands and shooed him away. Then quickly she climbed into her sled and rode down the hillside straight to Kotura's tent. She entered the tent, made a fire, ate her fill of the roast venison and lay down to sleep.
When Kotura returned, he was surprised to find the girl asleep on his bed. The roar of his deep voice woke her at once and she explained that her father had sent her to be his wife. Kotura frowned, fell silent, then shouted at her gruffly: "Then why do you lie there sleeping? I am hungry, be quick and prepare some meat."
As soon as the meat was ready, Kotura ordered second daughter to take it from the pot and cut it in half.
"You and I will eat one half," he said. "And you will take the other to my neighbor. But do not enter her tent: wait outside for the dish to be returned."
Second daughter took the meat and went outside into the storm. The wind was howling so hard, the black night was so smothering that she could see and hear nothing at all. So, fearing to take another step, she tossed the meat as far as she could and returned to Kotura's tent.
"Have you given the meat to my neighbor?" he asked.
"Of course I have," replied second daughter.
"You haven't been long," he said. "Show me the dish, I want to see what she gave you in return."
Somewhat afraid, second daughter did as she was bid, and Kotura frowned as he saw the empty dish. But he said not a word and went to bed. In the morning, he brought in some untanned hides and told second daughter to make him a coat, shoes and mittens by nightfall.
"Set to work," he said. "This evening I shall judge your handiwork."
With those words, Kotura went off into the wind and second daughter got down to her task. She was in a great hurry, eager to complete the job by nightfall. By and by, an old woman covered in snow came into the tent.
"I've something in my eye, child," she said. "Pray help me take it out; I cannot manage by myself."
"Oh, go away and don't bother me," said the girl, crossly. "I am too busy to leave my work."
The Snow Woman went away without a word. As darkness came, Kotura returned from hunting. "Are my new clothes ready?" he asked.
"Here they are," replied second daughter.
He tried on the garments and saw at once they were poorly cut and much too small. Flying into a rage, he flung second daughter even farther than her sister. And she too met a cold death in the snow.
Back home the old father sat in the tent with his youngest daughter, waiting in vain for the storm to pass. But the blizzard redoubled its force, and it seemed the camp would be blown away at any minute.
"My daughters did not heed my words," the old man reflected, sadly. "They have angered Kotura even more. Go to him, my last daughter, though it breaks my heart to part with you; but you alone can save our clan from certain doom."
Youngest daughter left the camp, turned her face into the north wind and pushed the sled before her. The wind shrieked and seethed about her; the snowflakes powdered her red-rimmed eyes almost blinding her. Yet she staggered on through the blizzard mindful of her father's words. The strings of her coat came undone -- but she did not stop to tie them. The snow forced its way into her shoes -- but she did not stop to shake it out. And although her face was numb and her lungs were bursting, she did not pause for breath. Only when she had reached the hilltop did she halt to shake out the snow from her shoes and tie the strings of her coat.
Just at that moment, a little bird flew down and perched on her shoulder. Instead of chasing him away, she gently stroked his downy breast.
And when the bird flew off, she got on to her sled and glided over the snow down the hillside right to Kotura's door.
Without showing her fear, the young girl went boldly into the tent and sat down patiently waiting for the giant to appear. It was not long before the doorflap was lifted and in came the handsome young giant, Lord of the Winds.
When he set eyes on the young girl, a smile lit up his solemn face. "Why have you come to me?" he asked.
"My father sent me to ask you to calm the storm," she said, quietly. "For if you do not, our people will die."
Kotura frowned and said gruffly: "Make up the fire and cook some meat. I am hungry and so must you be too, for I see you have touched nothing since you arrived."
Youngest daughter prepared the meat, took it from the pot and handed it to Kotura in a dish. But he instructed her to take half to his neighbor.
Obediently, youngest daughter took the dish of meat and went outside into the snowstorm. Where was she to go? Where was the neighbor's tent to be found in this wilderness?
Then suddenly, from out of nowhere, a little bird flew before her face -- the very same bird she had caressed on the hillside. Now it flew before her, as if beckoning her on. Whichever way the bird flew, there she followed. At last she could make out a wisp of smoke spiralling upwards and mingling with the swirling snowflakes.
Youngest daughter was very relieved, and she made for the smoke thinking the tent must be there. Yet as she drew near, she saw to her surprise that the smoke was coming from a mound of snow; no tent was to be seen!
She walked round and round the mound of snow and prodded it with her foot. Straightaway a door appeared before her and an old, old woman poked her head out.
"Who are you?" she screeched. "And why have you come here?"
"I have brought you some meat, Grannie," youngest daughter replied. "Kotura asked me to bring it to you."
"Kotura, you say?" said the Snow Woman, chewing on a black pipe. "Very well then, wait here."
Youngest daughter waited by the strange snow-house and at last the old woman reappeared and handed her back the wooden dish. There was something in the dish but the girl could not make it out in the dark. With a word of thanks, she took the dish and returned to Kotura.
"Why were you so long?" Kotura asked. "Did you find the Snow Woman's tent?"
"Yes, I did, but it was a long way," she replied.
"Give me the dish that I might see what she has given you," said the giant.
When he looked into the dish he saw that it contained two sharp knives and some bone needles and scrapers for dressing hides.
The giant chuckled. "You have some fine gifts to keep you busy."
At dawn Kotura rose and brought some deerskins into the tent. As before, he gave orders that new shoes, mittens and a coat were to be made by nightfall.
"Should you make them well," he said, "you shall be my wife."
As soon as Kotura had gone, youngest daughter set to work. The Snow Woman's gifts indeed proved very useful: there was all she needed to make the garments.
But how could she do it in a single day? That was impossible!
All the same, she dressed and scraped the skins, cut and sewed so quickly that her fingers were soon raw and bleeding.
As she was about her work, the doorflap was raised and in came the old Snow Woman.
"Help me, my child," she said. "There's a speck in my eye. Pray help me to take it out."
At once youngest daughter set aside her work and soon had the mote out of the old woman's eye.
"That's better," said the Snow Woman. "My eye does not hurt any more. Now, child, look into my right ear and see what you can see."
Youngest daughter looked into the old woman's right ear and gasped in surprise.
"What do you see?" the Snow Woman asked.
"I see a maid sitting in your ear," the girl replied.
"Then, why don't you call to her? She will help you make Kotura's clothes."
At her call, not one but four maids jumped from the Snow Woman's ear and immediately set to work. They dressed the skins, scraped them smooth, cut and sewed them into shape, and very soon the garments were all ready. Then the Snow Woman took the four maids back into her ear and left the tent.
As darkness fell, Kotura returned. "Have you completed your tasks?" he asked.
"Yes, I have," the girl said.
"Then show me the new clothes that I may try them on."
Youngest daughter handed him the clothes, and Kotura passed his great hand over them: the skins were soft and supple to the touch. He put them on: the coat and the shoes and the mittens. And they were neither small nor large. They fitted him perfectly.
Kotura smiled. "I like you, youngest daughter," he said. "And my mother and four sisters like you, too. You work well, and you have much courage. You braved a terrible storm so that your people might not die. And you did all that you were told. Stay with me and be my wife."
No sooner had the words passed his lips than the storm in the tundra was stilled. No longer did the people hide from the north wind in their cold tents. They were saved. One by one they emerged into the sunshine.
And with them came the old father, tears of joy glistening on his sunken cheeks, proud that his youngest, dearest daughter had saved the people from the storm.