Once, a very long time ago, there lived an
old man. He had nothing to his name besides his old wife and a run-down
old donkey. The old man eked out a living by gathering firewood in the
desert sands and selling it at the market.
Once as he was roaming the sands the old man saw two whirlwinds reaching up to the skies, one black and one white.
He walked up closer to take a better look and suddenly the white whirlwind turned into a white snake.
The snake crawled over to the old man and said in a human voice:
"Old man! I can turn into anything I please. Now I'll become a needle, and you must quickly hide me in your pocket. The black snake is my arch enemy. When it rushes past you, pull the needle out of your pocket, and I'il grant you anything you wish."
The old man agreed to help the fugitive.
"In the name of the white snake, in the name of the black snake, may I become a needle!" No sooner had the white snake pronounced these words than it turned into a needle. The old man quickly picked it up and put it in his pocket.
Soon the black whirlwind came swirling over and turned into a black snake.
"Hey there, old man," it asked, "have you seen a white snake hereabouts?"
"No," replied the old man.
"Tell the truth," hissed the black snake, "or you'll live to regret it!"
In order to be rid of the black snake, the old man motioned with a wave of his hand and said:
"I'm not sure what it was, but some sort of white whirlwind went flying that way."
The black snake instantly turned back into a whirlwind and went tearing off in pursuit.
Then the old man pulled out the needle and said: "Your enemy is gone!"
The needle turned into a snake once more.
"Oh, my savior! Ask of me anything and it will be yours!"
"There's nothing much I want, unless maybe for the firewood to load itself on the donkey's back, and for the donkey to trot along ahead of me without prompting."
"In the name of the white snake, in the name of the black snake, may the old man's wish be granted!" commanded the white snake. And thus the old man's wish came true. The firewood loaded itself on the donkey's back, and the donkey jtself went trotting along home with a merry clip-clop of its hooves. At the walls of the city, built of seven layers of clay, they met up with the king's daughter. She satin a gilded palanquin on the back of a white camel. At the
sight of the donkey which trotted along in front of its master without goading, the king's daughter ordered her servants to halt the camel and she addressed the old man:
"From all appearances, this is a very experienced donkey. Tell me, old man, who was it that trained him to trot along like that?"
"And who might you be?" asked the old man.
"I'm the king's daughter."
"If that's so, then I decline to answer. If my reply is not to your liking, you'll order me hanged."
"You may speak without fear," the girl promised.
"Well then, if you must know, it was hunger that taught him."
The king's daughter continued on her way, but spies instantly reported what they had seen to the king:
"Your daughter was talking with an old man who sells firewood at the market."
In a fit of anger, the king ordered that the old man be seized and brought before him.
They dragged the poor man into the palace and the king rashly commanded:
"Give this impious wretch a flogging and banish him from the city!"
The king's henchmen gave the old man twenty lashes, the guards set fire to his ramshackle hut, and he and his wife were driven from the city.
And so they were wandering aimlessly over the sands when the white snake suddenly appeared before them.
"Old man, what has befallen you?"
The old man replied:
"Because of some trifle our king had me flogged and drove me out of his land. If only ou'd build me a palace-a marble one with four corner towers. Yes, and on each tower a crowing cock. And the clay ovens I'd prefer to have outside the palace walls."
"In the name of the white snake, in the name of the black snake, may the old man's wish be granted!" the white snake commanded.
In a flash, a marble palace sprang up in the desert. The old man and his wife settled in and began to live a life of luxury and ease.
One day while out hunting the king happened to spy the marble palace in the desert. Wheeling his horse around, he summoned his guards and commanded:
"Someone has built a palace on my land without asking my permission. Go seize the impious scoundrel and bring him before me. And if he attempts to resist, bring me his head!"
With a dreadful din and clangor the king's guards made their way to the marble palace. At that very instant, however, the white snake appeared before the old man and asked:
"What shall I do to them?"
"Do as you see fit," the old man replied.
"In the name of the white snake, in the name of the black snake, may these soldiers gallop back to front to the king's chambers!"
Everything instantly took place as the white snake had willed.
The guards went tumbling back to front into the king's chambers and the head of the guards fell at the feet of his sovereign:
"God protect us from such an enemy! No, my king, you wage battle with him yourself. Look what happened to us, and we never even saw his face!"
"You good-for-nothings!" the king exclaimed, stamping his feet in rage. After giving the head of the guards a blow on the chin, he went storming out with the grand vizier to the marble palace.
The old man saw them approaching and said to the white snake:
"The king is on his way with the grand vizier!"
"What shall I do to them?" asked the white snake.
"Do as you see fit," the old man replied as he had before.
"In the name of the white snake, in the name of the black snake, with the consent of the old man, may the king turn into a jackass, and the grand vizier, a kid-ass! May they bray and run seven times around the marble palace!"
The king and grand vizier immediately assumed the forms of jackass and kid-ass, and began to trot around the marble palace with a raucous braying.
It so happened that at that very moment the old man's wife was baking bread outside in the clay oven. When she saw the two asses come galloping past, she drove them away with a stick, not knowing that it was the king and his grand vizier. The asses made seven revolutions around the palace and came to a halt.
"In the name of the white snake, in the name of the black snake, with the consent of the old man, may you become as you were before!"the white snake commanded. And so the jackass and the kid-ass became king and grand vizier once more.
"O honorable white snake!" cried the old man. "Grant them the most modest subsistence, and may they henceforth wander homeless about the land, as they wished upon others. So they may experience good and evil for themselves!"
The next day Dengli diligently drank down his medicine and that night Shyrdak paid him another visit and told him yet another story.