Georgia: The Story of Dervish

This story is part of the Georgian Folktales unit. Story source: Georgian Folk Tales, by Marjory Wardrop (1894).

The Story of Dervish

A HUNTER killed in the mountains a stag and began to skin it. He then hung the skin on a bush and went down to a stream to wash the blood from his hands. When he came back, he found to his surprise that the dead stag had come to life and was bounding away. When he had recovered from his astonishment, he chased the beast but could not overtake it, and it was soon lost to sight.

He met a wayfarer, briefly told him the story, and asked if he had ever seen a stag without a skin. "I have never seen a stag without a skin, but I do not wonder at your story. Near here there is a healing spring where any beast, even if wounded unto death, can be cured by bathing. Your stag probably bathed there and is now sound and well. But if you want to know more about this wonderful country of ours, seek out a man called Dervish, and he will tell you things that will soon make you forget all about the stag."

"Where can I find this Dervish?" asked the hunter.

"Go from village to village and look into every courtyard, and when you see a man smoking a pipe, with an ass and a she-ass bound before him, ask him."

The hunter went away and, after a long search, found Dervish, who told him the following story:

"I was married," said Dervish, "and loved my wife, but she deceived me with my next-door neighbour. When I heard of this, I questioned my wife, but, instead of answering, she struck me with a whip, and, to my horror, I was turned into a dog. My wife drove me out into the yard, and for shame I ran away.

"On the road I suffered hunger, thirst, and despair, and, for the first time in my life, I knew what it was to be powerless and realised what a great difference there is between man and beast. When I opened my mouth and tried to speak, I only barked and howled. I tried to stand on my hind legs and walk like a man, but I fell either backwards or forwards. Then I jumped about, and did this so easily and briskly that I regained my spirits, and came to think that even a dog's life had its pleasures.

"While I was merrily jumping, I unexpectedly saw a man. He looked at me and I at him. The man smiled, and I ran up to him, but he was afraid, and lifted his stick to strike me. We both moved away from each other. I wanted to speak, but I barked, and the man raised his stick again. I then began to frolic and jump, and the man smiled again, and let me come up to him. I understood how dog and man are always the best of friends, and in my mind I thanked my wicked wife that she had turned me into a dog, and not some other beast—a pig, for instance.

"The man who beckoned me to come to him was a good village priest, and we soon became great friends. He caressed me, gave me something to eat, and I went away with him. The kind-hearted priest, overcome by the heat, lay down to rest under a tree, and I wished to do the same, but the priest said: 'Watch over me!' so I did not go to sleep, rightly thinking that if the priest woke and found me asleep he would give me no more bread and perhaps would drive me away.

"Ah! the beginning of my dog life was grievous. In the evening, the priest stopped to sleep with some shepherds who were watching their flocks. The shepherds, to show honour to their pastor, killed a lamb for supper, got wine, and made merry. Though I took no direct part in the feast, I kept close behind my master. After supper, one of the shepherds looked at me, and said: 'This dog must be fond of wine, for he never takes his eyes from the glass, and now and then he licks his lips.' I nodded my head several times. Then the shepherds poured me out some wine in a plate, and I lapped it up with pleasure.

"When they were all asleep, wolves came and attacked the sheep. The shepherds' dogs barked, but did not dare to attack the wolves; I rose and killed three wolves on the spot. When the shepherds saw this, they offered the priest a good price for me, and he finally sold me.

"Before long I had killed a vast number of wolves, and the fame of me reached the ears of the king of the country. I was brought and taken to the palace, to the sick daughter of the king, who was tormented at night by brownies. Every morning the princess woke exhausted and enfeebled. On the first night of my watch, I saw swans enter the bedchamber through the closed doors; they choked and trampled upon the sleeping princess. I was chained up, and could do nothing to help the poor maiden.

"In the morning, I was scolded for not having done anything, but one of the courtiers defended me, saying: 'He is a good dog, but he must be unchained, and then we shall see what he can do.' Next night the swans came again. I killed ten of them, but the eleventh asked me to spare her, saying she would help me in the matter of my wife and our neighbour. I trusted the swan, and let her go. To my delight, the princess rose healthy and merry next morning. The king was exceedingly pleased with me, and ordered me to have a heavy gold chain, and to be fed right royally.

"I lived well in the palace, but I longed to see my home and wife again, so I soon ran away. When I entered my own house, my wife took off my gold chain, struck me with her whip, and turned me into a duck. I flew into a field near by, where millet had been sown, and, being inexperienced, was caught at once in nets laid by a peasant. The peasant took me under his arm, and gave me to his wife, telling her to cook me for dinner.

"As soon as the peasant had gone out, the woman looked at me intently and then took down from the wall a whip, with which she struck me, and turned me into a man again, saying: 'Have I helped you or not? We were twelve sisters; you killed ten of us, I am the eleventh, and your wife is the twelfth. Now go home, take the whip which hangs over your wife's bed, strike her and your neighbour with it, and you can turn them into any kind of beasts that you wish.' I went in late at night when my wife and the neighbour were both asleep; I struck them with the whip and turned my wife into an ass, and the man into a she-ass, and here they are."

The hunter was terrified when he heard this story of Dervish; he ran away from the enchanted mountain realm as fast as he could and resolved never to go back there again.

(1300 words)

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