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The Tale of Zesva

as told by A. Goulbat

From Caucasian Legends, translated from the Russian of A. Goulbat by Sergei de Wesselitsky-Bojidarovitch, published by Hinds, Noble and Eldredge, New York 1904 (pp. 153-156).

This particular legend is of great interest, for it tells of how the Tush "discovered" the fertile alluvial plain of Kakheti to the south of the mountains which separate it from Tusheti, and of how Zezva Gaprindauli — a Tush warrior and leader — came to win the winter pastures of Alvani in Kakheti for the Tush following the battle of Bakhtrioni in 1659.

XII. Zesva

Two horsemen were giving chase to some wild goats. Quickly did their most daring horses run, but still faster did the light little goats save themselves by flight, jumping across narrow gorges with one bound, springing on small plateaus, and in a word as though favored with having wings they seemed to fly through bushes and low shrubs. Now, however, they made for a very high mountain covered with bushes and forests and rapidly found their way among green branches and blooming trees, ascending higher and higher. The pace of the pursuit of the horsemen considerably slowed down as the various plants were every now and then the cause of unexpected delays, while their victims, the goats, were able to catch breath between each long jump and thus got on rather well and without much difficulty. The comparatively large horses were of course forced to go out of their way in order to avoid knocking up against trees, which barred the trail, and even where the grass had been smoothed out the animals went rather quietly and the energetic horsemen saw themselves more than once obliged to cut and bend down massive branches which formed the chief impediment in the whole undertaking. When after long and renewed attempts they safely reached the summit of the mountain, the goats had completely disappeared, and looking in various directions in order to discover the hiding place of the fugitives, the plucky horsemen cast their glances at that part of the mountain at the foot of which spread itself out like a fairyland the perfectly magnificent valley of Alazana. And how beautiful she looked on this rare sunny day, all shining with soft sweet rays, separated from each other by a large number of various colored shades, one more perfect and exquisite than the other. Now she would seem to take a bath in some pale, rosy waves, produced by an unknown marvellous battery of light, then again she so dazzled in precious gold and finally blazed with emeralds and the branches of its quite innumerable vineyards. There was also the sea of clusters, which could be distinguished through its little fruit garden, and like gigantic flower bushes they concentrated in themselves an amazing variety of flowers from the very most conspicuous to the darkest and palest. In astonishment did the hunters stop. Till then none of the Toushines had known about the existence of the highly blessed and favored Kakhitia. Being illuminated and showing all of her blinding beauty, she indeed seemed to them a perfect paradise and attracted forever their exultant glances. And the hunt and goats and everything else was forgotten. They stood there in perfect adoration of this unusual perfection of beauty and being unable to resist any longer the force which drew them nearer and nearer to the happy land, they descended into the gorge of Pankisse. On the River Bazzarisse-Tskali they chanced to come upon a detachment of Tartar frontier guards, who immediately surrounded the newcomers, and having dealt with them in the most insulting and truly shameful manner, again chased them into the mountains from which they had come.

Arriving at home, the indignant Toushines made a halt near that river, where the nation usually assembled when it was necessary to decide some important affairs. Here did they also announce the facts of their perilous adventure and demand a revenge. Soon by the summons of the Elder there came together not only the Toushines, but also the Pchaves and Kersourians, called in to give their advice. They all unanimously decided to take terrible revenge for the insult inflicted on their countrymen. The Pchaves and Khevsourians promised their assistance and with general consent the whole army was divided into two parts. One division was to conceal itself in the gorge of Pankiss, while the other should direct itself towards the Baktrionan fortress, which was situated to the east of Alazana and was in those remote times considered a very powerful fortification. Nowadays we can judge of it only by its ruins, which, however, all testify its past grandeur and mightiness. It was impossible to cross the river otherwise than over the bridge, which the sly Tartars covered with ashes in order to always find out the exact number and direction of new arrivals. But this ingenious slyness was not long hidden from the searching eye of Zesva, the valiant leader of the detachment. He ordered to stop the horses near the outer gates and, riding at full speed across the bridge, he succeeded in hiding himself in a valley before the Tartars found time to appear. The latter, guiding themselves by the direction of the traces, started in pursuit of their antagonists, but with every step getting farther and farther away from those to capture which was their intense desire. In the meantime the night came on and, profiting by the darkness, the Toushines reached the foot of the very fortress without being noticed by anyone. Having ordered his warriors to rest, Zesva, without breaking the silence, took up a hammer, covered it with cow-hair felt, unloaded from his horse a very large maprasha (i.e., a pair of sacks tied unto the steed) filled with strong iron tusks and knocked the first great nail into the battlements of the fortress, and standing upon it and reaching as high as possible he made a second one stick, and thus he continued until he had made himself a kind of ladder of iron hooks to the tip-top of the high rampart wall, whence he jumped down and in a flash threw open the heavy gates. Like a rushing stream did the Toushines make their way into the fortress, while the first rays of the rising sun were falling upon the grim old fortifications. The Tartars, half asleep, ran out into a field, but in vain for now they were met by the Pchaves and Khevsoures, who had ventured out from the gorge of Pankisse. The Tartars, surrounded on all sides, were exterminated to the last one and the field of honor of Allavanne, on which the glorious fight had taken place, was from now on known under the name of "Gatzvetila" (from the word "gatsveta"—"they are killing").

The magnanimous and lion-hearted Zesva handed out all the rich booty of this ever-memorable day to his faithful allies, i.e., the Pchaves and Khevsoures, while Gatzvetila became the common property of all Toushines. Nowadays this historic spot is known under the designation, "Field of Allavanna." Some people pretend that this name comes from the Georgian word "ali," i.e., "flame," as on this field, after the fire of the battle, the Tartar blood went on smoking for a long time; others say this name originates from the Kshtinskian words "al"=vladyka and "va"=here. This latter supposition, it seems to me, must be nearer in approaching the truth, as Allvani was one of the country palaces of Tamara, the ruins of which were not kept, although traditions confirm the existence of a palace on the above-mentioned field.