Sagas from the Far East; or, Kalmouk and Mongolian Traditionary Tales | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

How the Schimnu-Khan Was Slain


When the Well-and-wise-walking Khan found that once again he had missed the end and object of his labour, he set out anew without loss of time and without hesitation, and journeyed through toil and terror till he came to the cool grove where rested the bodies of the dead. The Siddhî-kür at his approach ran away before his face, and clambered up the mango-tree; but when the Well-and-wise-walking Khan had threatened to fell it, the Siddhî-kür came down to him rather than that he should destroy the precious mango-tree. Then he bound him in his bag and laded him on to his shoulder, and bore him away to offer to the Master and Teacher Nâgârg'una.

               But after they had journeyed many days and spoken nothing, the Siddhî-kür said, "See, we are like to die of weariness if we go on journeying thus day by day without conversing. Tell now thou, therefore, a tale to relieve the weariness of the way."

               The Well-and-wise-walking Khan, however, mindful of the word of his Master and Teacher Nâgârg'una, saying, "See thou speak never a word by the way," answered him nothing, neither spake at all.

               Then said the Siddhî-kür, "If thou wilt not tell a tale, at least give me some token by which I may know that thou willest I should tell one, and without speaking, nod thy head backwards towards me, and I will tell a tale."

               So the Well-and-wise-walking Khan nodded his head backwards, and the Siddhî-kür told this tale saying,--


LONG ages ago there lived on the banks of a mighty river a man who had no wife, and no family, and no possessions, but only one cow; and when he mourned because he had no children, and his cow had no calf, and that he had no milk and no butter to live upon, his cow one day gave birth, not to a calf, but to a monster, which seemed only to be sent to mock him in his misery and distress; for while it had the head, and horns, and long tail of a bull, it had the body of a man. Never was such an ugly monster seen, and when the poor man considered it he said, "What shall I now do with this monster? It is not good for him to live; I will fetch my bow and arrows, and will make an end of him." But when he had strung his bow and fixed his arrow, Massang of the bull's head, seeing what he was going to do, cried out, "Master, slay me not; and doubt not but that your clemency shall have its reward."

               At these words the poor man was moved to clemency, and he put up his arrows again, and let Massang live, but he turned away his face from beholding him. When Massang saw that his master could not look upon him, he turned him and fled into the woods, and wandered on till he came to a place where was a black-coloured man sitting at the foot of a tree. Seeing him, Massang said, "Who and whence art thou?"

               And the black-coloured man made answer, "I am a full-grown man of good understanding, born of the dark woods."

               And Massang said, "Whither goest thou? I will go with thee and be thy companion."

               And the black-coloured man got up, and they wandered on together till they came to a place in the open meadow, where they saw a green-coloured man sitting on the grass. Seeing him, Massang said, "Who and whence art thou?"

               And the green-coloured man replied, "I am a full-grown man of good understanding, born of the green meadows; take me with you too, and I will be your companion."

               And he wandered on with the other two, Massang and the black-coloured man, till they came to a place where was a white-coloured man sitting on a crystal rock. Seeing him, Massang said, "Who and whence art thou?"

               And the white-coloured man replied, "I am a full-grown man of good understanding, born of the crystal rock; take me with you, and let me be your companion."

               And he wandered on with the other three, Massang, and the black-coloured man, and the green-coloured man, till they came to a stream flowing between barren sandy banks; and farther along was a grass-clad hill with a little dwelling on the top. Of this dwelling they took possession, and inside it they found provisions of every kind; and in the yard cattle and all that was required to maintain life. Here, therefore, they dwelt; three of them going out every day to hunt, and one staying at home to keep guard over the place.

               Now the first day, Massang went to the hunt, and took with him the white-coloured man and the green-coloured man; the black-coloured man being thus left in charge of the homestead, set himself to prepare the dinner. He had made the butter, and sat with the milk simmering, cooking the meat (1), when he heard a rustling sound as of one approaching stealthily. Looking round to discover who came there, he saw a little old woman not more than a span high, carrying a bundle no bigger than an apple on her back, coming up a ladder she had set ready for herself, without asking leave or making any sort of ceremony.

               "Lackaday!" cried the little old woman, speaking to herself, "methinks I see a youngster cooking good food." But to him she said in a commanding tone, "Listen to me now, and give me some of thy milk and meat to taste."

               Though she was so small, she wore such a weird, uncanny air that the black-coloured man, though he had boasted of being a full-grown man of good understanding, durst not say her "Nay;" though he contented himself with keeping to the letter of her behest, and only gave her the smallest possible morsel of the food he had prepared, only just enough, as she had said, "to taste." But lo and behold! no sooner had she put the morsel to her lips than the whole portion disappeared, meat, milk, pot and all; and, more marvellous still, the little old wife had disappeared with them.

               Ashamed at finding himself thus overmatched by such a little old wench, he reasoned with himself that he must invent something to tell his companions which should have a more imposing sound than the sorry story of what had actually occurred. Turning over all his belongings to help himself to an idea, he found two horse's-hoofs, and with these he made the marks as of many horsemen all round the dwelling, and then shot his own arrow into the middle of the yard.

               He had hardly finished these preparations when his companions came home from the hunt.

               "Where is our meal?" inquired they. "Where is the butter you were to have made, and the meat you were to have cooked?"

               "Scarcely had I made all ready," replied the black-coloured man, "than a hundred strange men, on a hundred wild horses, came tearing through the place; and what could I do to withstand a hundred? Thus they have taken all the butter, and milk, and meat, and me they beat and bound, so that I have had enough to do to set myself free, and scarcely can I move from the effect of their blows. Go out now and see for yourselves."

               So they went out; and when they saw the marks of the horses'-hoofs all round the dwelling, and the arrow shot into the middle of the courtyard, they said, "He hath spoken true things."

               The next day Massang went to the hunt, and took with him the black-coloured man and the white-coloured man. The green-coloured man being thus left in charge of the homestead, set himself to prepare the dinner; and it was no sooner ready than the little old wife came in, as she had done the day before, and played the same game.

               "This is doubtless how it fell out with the black-coloured man," said he to himself, as soon as she was gone; "but neither can I own that I was matched by such a little old wife, nor yet can I tell the same story about the horsemen. I know what I will do: I will fetch up a yoke of oxen, and make them tramp about the place, and when the others come home, I will say some men came by with a herd of cattle, and, overpowering me, carried off the victuals." All this he did; and when his companions came home, and saw for themselves the marks the oxen had made in tramping up the soil, they said, "He hath spoken true things."

               The day after, Massang went hunting, and took with him the black-coloured man and the green-coloured man. The white-coloured man being left in charge of the homestead, set himself to prepare the dinner. Nor was it long before the same little old woman who had visited his companions made her appearance; and soon she had made an end of all the provisions. "This is doubtless how it fell out with the green-coloured man yesterday, and the black-coloured man the day before," said the white-coloured man to himself; "but neither can I own any more than they that I was overmatched by such a little old wife, nor yet can I tell the same story as they." So he fetched a mule in from the field, and made it trot all round the dwelling, that when his companions came in he might tell them that a party of merchants had been by, with a file of mules carrying their packs of merchandize, who had held him bound, and eaten up the provisions.

               All this he did; and when his companions came home, and saw for themselves the marks of the mule-hoofs all round the dwelling, they said, "He hath spoken true things."

               The next day it was Massang's turn to stay at home, nor did he neglect the duty which fell upon him of cooking the food against the return of the rest. As he sat thus occupied, up came the little old woman, as on all the other days.

               "Lackaday!" she exclaimed, as she set eyes on him. "Methinks I see a youngster cooking good food!" And to him she cried, in her imperious tone, "Listen to me now, and give me some of thy milk and meat to taste."

               When Massang saw her, he said within himself, "Surely now this is she who hath appeared to the other three; and when they said that strangers had broken in, and overpowered them, and stolen the food, was it not that she is a witch-woman and enchanted it away. She only asks to taste it; but if I do her bidding, who knows what may follow?" So he observed her, that he might discover what way there was of over-matching her; thus he espied her bundle, and bethought him it contained the means of her witcheries. To possess himself of it he had first to devise the means of getting her to go an errand, and leave it behind her.

               "Belike you could help me to some fresh water, good wife," he said, in a simple, coaxing tone; and she, thinking to serve her purpose by keeping on good terms with him, replied,--

               "That can I; but give me wherewithal to fetch it."

               To keep her longer absent, he gave her a pail with a hole in it, with which she went out. Looking after her, he saw that she made her way straight up to the clouds, and squeezed one into her pail, but no sooner was it poured in, than it ran out again. Meantime, he possessed himself of her bundle, and turned it over; withal it was not so big as an apple, it contained many things: a hank of catgut, which he exchanged for a hank of hempen cord; an iron hammer, which he exchanged for a wooden mallet; and a pair of iron pincers, which he exchanged for wooden ones.

               He had hardly tied up the bundle again, when the old woman came back, very angry with the trick that had been played upon her with the leaking pail, and exclaiming, "How shall water be brought in a pail where there is a hole?" Then she added further, and in a yet angrier key, "If thou wilt not give me to taste of thy food, beware! for then all that thou hast becomes mine." And when she found that he heeded her not, but went on with what he was doing, just as if she had not spoken, she cried out, furiously,--

               "If we are not to be on good terms, we must e'en match our strength; if we are not to have peace, we must have war; if I may not eat with you, I will fight you."

               "That I am ready for," answered Massang, as one sure of an easy victory.

               "Not so confident!" replied the old one. "Though I am small and thou so big, yet have I overcome mightier ones than thou."

               "In what shall we match our strength?" said Massang, not heeding her banter.

               "We will have three trials," replied the old one; "the cord proof, the hammer proof, and the pincers proof. And first the cord proof. I will first bind thee, and if thou canst burst my bonds, well; then thou shalt also bind me."

               Then Massang saw that he had done well to possess himself of her instruments, but he gave assent to her mode of proof, and let her bind him as tight as ever she would; but as she had only the hempen cord to bind him with, which he had put in her bundle in place of the catgut, he broke it easily with his strength, and set himself free again. Then he bound her with the catgut, so that she was not able by any means to unloose herself.

               "True, herein thou hast conquered," she owned, as she lay bound and unable to move, "but now we will have the pincers proof." And as he had promised to wage three trials with her, he set her free.

               Then with her pincers she took him by the breast; but, as he had changed her iron pincers for the wooden ones, he hardly felt the pinch, and she did him no harm. But when, with her iron pincers, he seized her, she writhed and struggled so that he pulled out a piece of flesh as big as an earthen pot, and she cried out in great pain.--

               "Of a truth thou art a formidable fellow, but now we will have the hammer proof," and she made Massang lie down; but when she would have given him a powerful blow on the chest with her iron hammer, the handle of the wooden mallet Massang had given her in its stead broke short off, and she was not able to hurt him. But Massang made her iron hammer glowing hot in the fire, and belaboured her both on the head and body so that she was glad to escape at the top of her speed and howling wildly.

               As she flew past, Massang's three companions came in from hunting and said, "Surely now you have had a trial to endure." And Massang answered,--

               "Of a truth you are miserable fellows all, and moreover have spoken that which is not true. Was it like men to let yourselves be overmatched by a little old wife? But now I have tamed her, let be. Let us go and seek for her corpse; maybe we shall find treasure in the place where she lays it."

               When they heard him speak of treasure they willingly went out after him, and, following the track of blood which had fallen from the witch-woman's wounds as she went along, they came to a place where was an awful cleft in a mighty rock, and peeping through they saw, far below, the bloody body of the old witch-woman, lying on a heap of gold and jewels and shining adamant armour and countless precious things.

               Then Massang said, "Shall you three go down and hand me up the spoil by means of a rope of which I will hold the end, or shall I go down and hand it up to you?"

               But they three all made answer together, "This woman is manifestly none other but a Schimnu (2). We dare not go near her. Go you down."

               So Massang let himself down by the rope, and sent up the spoil by the same means to his companions, who when they had possession of it said thus to one another,--

               "If we draw Massang up again, we cannot deny in verity that the spoil is his, as he has won it in every way, but if we leave him down below it becomes ours." So they left him below, and when he looked that they should have hauled him up they gave never a sign or sound. When he saw that, he said thus to himself, "My three companions have left me here that they may enjoy the spoil alone. For me nothing is left but to die!"

               But as it grieved him so to die in his health and strength, he cast about him to see whether in all that cave which had been so full of valuables there was not something stored that was good for food, yet found he nothing save three cherry-stones.

               So he took the cherry-stones and planted them in the earth, saying, "If I be truly Massang, may these be three full-grown cherry-trees by the time I wake; but if not, then let me die the death." And with that he laid him down to sleep with the body of the Schimnu for a pillow.

               Being thus defiled by contact with the corpse, he slept for many years. When at last he woke, he found that three cherry-trees had sprung up from the seeds he planted and now reached to the top of the rock. Rejoicing greatly therefore, he climbed up by their means and reached the earth.

               First he bent his steps to his late dwelling, to look for his companions, but it was deserted, and no one lived therein. So, taking his iron bow and his arrows, he journeyed farther.

               Presently he came to a place where there were three fine houses, with gardens and fields and cattle and all that could be desired by the heart of man. These were the houses which his three companions had built for themselves out of the spoil of the cave. And when he would have gone in, their wives said--for they had taken to them wives also--"Thy companions are not here; they are gone out hunting." So he took up his iron bow and his arrows again, and went on to seek them, and as he went by the way he saw them coming towards him with the game they had taken with their bows. Then he strung his iron bow and would have shot at them; but they, falling down before him, cried out, "Slay us not. Only let us live, and behold our houses, and our wives, and our cattle, and all that we have is in thine hand, to do with it as it seemeth good to thee."

               Then he put up his arrows again, and said to them only these words, "In truth, friends, ye dealt evilly with me in that ye left me to perish in the cave."

               But they, owning their fault, again begged him that he would stay with them and let their house be his house, and they entreated him. But he would not stay with them, saying,--

               "A promise is upon me, which I made when my master would have killed me and I entreated him to spare my life, for I said to him that I would repay his clemency to him if he spared me. Now, therefore, let me go that I may seek him out."

               Then, when they heard those words, they let him go, and he journeyed on farther to find out his master.

               One day of his journey, as he was wearied with walking, he sat down towards evening by the side of a well, and as he sat an enchantingly beautiful maiden came towards the well as if to draw water, and as she came along he saw with astonishment that at every footstep as she lifted up her feet a fragrant flower sprang up out of the ground (3), one after another wherever she touched the ground. Massang stretched out his hand to offer to draw water for her, but she stopped not at the fountain but passed on, and Massang, in awe at her beauty and power, durst not speak to her, but rose up and followed behind her the whole way she went.

               On went the maiden, and ever on followed Massang, over burning plain and through fearful forest, past the sources of mighty rivers and over the snow-clad peaks of the everlasting mountains (4), till they reached the dwelling of the gods and the footstool of dread Churmusta (5).

               Then spoke Churmusta,--

               "That thou art come hither is good. Every day now we have to sustain the fight with the black Schimnu; to-morrow thou shalt be spectator of the fray, and the next day thou shall take part in it."

               The next day Massang stood at the foot of Churmusta's throne, and the gods waited around in silence. Massang saw a great herd as of black oxen, as it were early in the morning, driven with terror to the east side by a herd as of white oxen; and again he saw as it were late in the evening, the herd as of white oxen driven to the west side by the herd as of black oxen.

               Then spoke the great Churmusta,--

               "Behold the white oxen are the gods. The black oxen are the Schimnus. To-morrow, when thou seest the herd as of black oxen driving back the white, then string thine iron bow, and search out for thy mark a black ox, bearing a white star on his forehead. Then send thine arrow through the white star, for he is the Schimnu-Khan.

               Thus spoke the dread Churmusta.

               The next day Massang stood ready with his bow, and did even as Churmusta had commanded. With an arrow from his iron bow he pierced through the white star on the forehead of the black ox, and sent him away roaring and bellowing with pain.

               Then spake the dread Churmusta,--

               "Bravely hast thou dealt, and well hast thou deserved of me. Therefore thou shalt have thy portion with me, and dwell with me for ever."

               But Massang answered,--

               "Nay, for though I tarried at thy behest to do thy bidding, a promise is upon me which I made when my master would have taken my life. For I said, 'Spare me now, and be assured I will repay thy clemency.'"

               Then Churmusta commended him, and bid him do even as he had said. Furthermore he gave him a talisman to preserve him by the way, and gave him this counsel,--

               "Journeying, thou shalt be overcome by sleep, and having through sleeping forgotten the way, thou shalt arrive at the gate of the Schimnu-Khan. Then beware that thou think not to save thyself by flight. Knock, rather, boldly at the door, saying, 'I am a physician.' When they hear that they will bring thee to the Schimnu-Khan that thou mayest try thine art in drawing out the arrow from his forehead. Then place thyself as though thou wouldst remove it, but rather with a firm grasp drive it farther in, so that it enter his brain, first offering up with thine hand seven barley-corns to heaven; and after this manner thou shalt kill the Schimnu-Khan."

               Thus commanded the dread Churmusta.

               Then Massang came down from the footstool of Churmusta and the dwelling of the gods, and went forth to seek out his master. But growing weary with the length of the day, and lying down to sleep, when he woke he had forgotten the direction he had to take, so he pursued the path which lay before him, and it led him to the portal of the Schimnu palace.

               When he saw it was the Schimnu palace, he would have made good his escape from its precincts, but remembering the words of Churmusta, he knocked boldly at the door. Then the Schimnus flocked round him, and told him he must die unless he could do some service whereby his life might be redeemed; and Massang made answer, "I am a physician." Hearing that, they took him in to the Schimnu-Khan, that he might pluck the arrow out of his forehead.

               Massang stood before the Schimnu-Khan; but when he should have pulled out the arrow, he only pulled it out a little way, and the Schimnu-Khan said,--

               "Thus far is the pang diminished."

               Then, however, first casting seven barley-corns on high towards heaven, he plunged it in again even to the centre of his brain, so that he fell down at his feet dead. And as the seven barley-corns reached the heavens, there came down by their track an iron chain with a thundering clang which the dread Churmusta sent down to Massang, and Massang climbed up by the chain to the dwelling of the gods. But there stood by the throne of the Schimnu-Khan a female Schimnu, out of whose mouth came forth forked flames of fire, and when she saw Massang ascending to heaven by the chain, she raised an iron hammer high in air to strike it, and cleave it in two. But when she struck it, there issued seven bright sparks, which floated up to heaven, and remained fixed in the sky; and men called them the constellation of the Pleiades.

               "Thus, for all his promise, and after all his sacrifices, Massang never went back to repay his master's clemency!" exclaimed the Khan.

               And as he let these words escape him the Siddhî-kür replied, "Forgetting his health, the Well-and-wise-walking Khan hath opened his lips!" And with the cry, "To escape out of this world is good!" he sped him through the air, swift, out of sight.

               Thus far of the Adventures of the Well-and-wise-walking Khan the third chapter, showing how the Schimnu-Khan was slain.


(1) Milk-broth is mentioned by Abbé Huc repeatedly in his travels as a staple article of food in Mongolia.

(2) Schimnu or Schumnu (in Sanskrit, Kâma or Mâra) is the Buddhist Devil, or personified evil. He is also the God of Love, Sin, and Death, the Prince of the third or lower world. Sensuality is called his kingdom. The Schumnus are represented as tempters and doing all in their power to hinder mortals in their struggle after perfection, and in this view, take every sort of forms according to their design at the time. They as often appear in female as in male form. Schmidt's translation of sSanang sSetsen.

(3) As an instance of the migration of myths, I may mention here, that I met in Spain with a ballad, which I am sorry I have mislaid and cannot therefore quote the verse, in which the love-lorn swain in singing the praises of his mistress, among other charms enumerates, that the flowers spring from the stones as she treads her way through the streets.

               The present story, too, reminds forcibly in all its leading details of the legend I have entitled "The Ill-tempered Princess," in "Patrañas," though so unlike in the dénouement.

(4) I have had occasion to speak in another place of the early Indian's belief in the dwelling of the gods being situated among the inaccessible heights which bound his sight and his fancy. The mountain of Meerû was a spot so sacred that it was fabled the sun might not pass it. Consult Lassen, i. 847, &c. &c.

(5) Churmusta = Indra. The ruler of the lower gods, king of the earth and of the spirits of the air; his heaven is the place of earthly pleasures. Dæmons often go to war with him to obtain entrance into his paradise, and he can only fight them through the agency of an earthly hero (Brockhaus, Somadeva Bhatta, i. 213); hence it is that he calls Massang to fight the Schimnu-Khan for him.

               According to Abbé Huc's spelling, Hormoustha.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: How the Schimnu-Khan Was Slain
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Sagas from the Far East; or, Kalmouk and Mongolian Traditionary Tales
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Mongolia & Russia
Classification: ATU 301: The Three Stolen Princesses

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