THE CLEVER BOY
It was at the time when the Karakalpaks were part of the Khiva khanate, now part of Uzbekistan in Central Asia. The khan [king] of Khiva called a meeting of all the tribes under his dominion. Fourteen Karakalpak tribal leaders left for the meeting too. On their way to Khiva, they lost their way and came across a shepherd boy on the fringes of a desert. They asked the boy if he could show them the way to Khiva, the boy answered:
‘There are no settlements in this area. You’d better stay at my place tonight as my guests.’
‘What will you slaughter for your guests? A sheep or a goat?’ asked the tribal leaders as they made fun of the boy.
‘I will slaughter one goat if I find one. Or, perhaps I will slaughter two goats if I find none,’ the boy answered.
‘Are you alright, boy? How can you slaughter one goat, if you find one, and two goats if you find none?’ one of the tribal leaders asked the boy. The boy did not say anything.
‘Your hut is too small for us, boy. There is no enough room for all of us in it,’ said another tribal leader to the boy haughtily.
‘But my heart is so large that my hut will seem to you more than a palace,’ replied the boy distinctly.
‘Let us find a better place than this one. Let us go!’ yet another tribal leader urged the others, arrogantly stretching his horse-stirrups with his legs. The tribal leaders galloped off and left the boy.
‘Alright. You will come to the place of a man called "What a mistake!" when darkness falls and you will enjoy his hospitality there,’ the boy said looking behind them, holding his stick in his hand.
The tribal leaders travelled on for several hours. Their horses were tired. They could see nothing but endless desert. Darkness fell. They could see nothing in the darkness and various kinds of thorny bushes that grow in desert prevented their horses from moving on. At that time, one of the tribal leaders said: `We made a mistake today. We should have stayed at that shepherd boy’s place.’
Other leaders agreed with him and one of them said: ‘He is not an ordinary boy such as one meets every day. He has been shepherding in this desert for years and he must know something about this desert. We’d better return to the boy’s hut and spent the night there. Tomorrow morning, we will see what we can do.’
So they turned their horses around and at midnight - their horses exhausted and themselves tired and hungry - they found their way back to the boy’s hut.
The boy was sleeping when they came back. He was awakened by the noises of the horses and got up. Without saying anything, the boy helped the tribal leaders to hitch and unsaddle their horses.
Then the boy invited the guests to the dastarkhan (cloth stretched on the floor for guests to eat meals and do other things).
After some time, when the guests where having tea, the boy came in, holding a dead lamb in his bosom and said to the guests: ‘Brothers. You laughed at me when I said I would slaughter one goat if I found one and I would slaughter two goats if I found none. I had a pregnant goat, which I had been given in payment for my work as a shepherd. Since I could not find any other animal to slaughter for my guests tonight, I had to slaughter my pregnant goat. This is the lamb that was in my goat’s womb a few moments ago. So, I had to kill two goats for you. That is what I meant by saying: If I find none, will slaughter two,’ said the boy and cooked half of the goat in a cauldron and made kebab from the other half of it.
The guests showered the boy with questions: ‘Whose sheep are these? What is your name? Who is your father and what does he do?’
The boy answered: ‘These are a very rich man’s sheep,’ the boy said, giving the name of the rich man. ‘My father’s name is Qalbay-kokzhal (adamant, in Karakalpak). Even the very khan of Khiva respected my father,’ the boy added.
‘So, where is your father? Why are you alone pasturing sheep in this desert?’ one of the tribal leaders asked the boy.
‘Oh, my honoured guests. That is a long story,’ the boy answered.
‘Well, we have enough time to listen to your story, son. Go on, tell us your story,’ the tribal leaders insisted.
‘Alright, then,’ the boy sighed looking at the horizon and began his story: My parents used to live on a small island in that sea, he said pointing to the horizon and continued his story: My father used to fish and mother used to weave grass mats and sell them in the town market. My father was an adamant man.
One day, my father and other fishermen from his village heard that a tax collector from the khan of Khiva had arrived in the village.