By Ömer Faruk Toprak
In Edremit, on the north facing slopes of Mount Kaz, winter lasts seven months. On the western sides the weather is warmer, and for nine months brings to the people there a spring-like climate. At eight hundred meters the cold, cool air increases. The people of these parts, more especially the villagers and shepherds, know well the coldness, the ill-minded winds of this mountain, and they’re keen to sense them coming. In these winds the sheep are driven into hay barns for shelter. There are seven types of mountain grass, and you’d be surprised to see mountain flowers you’d never seen elsewhere.
In the skirts of this same Mount Kaz there once lived a dog. Years ago, one early November in the corner of the sheep-pen, he opened his eyes to the world. He grew fast. But when his father died from a wolf attack everything fell to him. Now, he was the eyes, the ears and the teeth of the flock. When the shepherd, Kul Hasan, fell asleep beneath a tree it was he who kept an eye on the flock.
One cold March day they woke to snow. It was morning, and the weather soon eased off. They were on the western slopes. As the shepherd raised his head to look around he could see the peaks stacked with snow. Further down, where there were more barns, snow had gathered in the cesspools. The shoulder of the next ridge was covered with fresh green grass and the shepherd drove the sheep off to where it could be found. It seemed that every blade had suddenly sprung up out of the long closed season. The sheep ate hungrily. Kul Hasan kept one eye on the dog, one eye looking off to where the snow met with the edge of the pines. Something rustled him:
“Wolves might be close! Be watchful! They could come out from there.”
But as it was, not a sound. He ate with his dog. Apart from the bleating of the young lambs and the sheep there was no other sound to be heard.
Clouds covered every flank. Slowly darkness began to fall. Then without warning that far off silence was shattered. Yellow Dog had taken up a scent.
Slowly, methodically, he was closing in on something.
Kul Hasan readied the pointed club and wrapped himself with his thick coat. The dog came back and stood near the flock.
From within the heather behind Kul Hasan, something threw itself at his shoulder. At first it tried to bite him by the nose. But the thick coat made it impossible. He and the wolf together fell to the floor. This time the dog jumped in. A terrible fight broke out.
Kul Hasan was thrown into confusion, but now took up the sharp club and began striking the wolf. The wolf and the dog each drew blood. But it looked as though the wolf was getting the upper hand.
At last he took out his knife and gave the wolf a final hard blow on the head with the club. The wolf was stunned. Without waiting he thrust the knife into its stomach and pulled it out. The dog had moved to the side, watching, panting heavily. Blood oozed from his throat and from his left rear leg. He’d collapsed, exhausted. The bewildered, injured wolf slid back into the heather and disappeared.
Kul Hasan gathered the scattered flock. On a distant page of his memory something his grandfather had once said about wolves came back to him. His grandfather’s eyes stuck out from his bearded face. He’d said:
“There are two kinds of wolf. Those who show mastery of the hunt don’t often fight with dogs. First they attack the shepherd. Before he can pull himself together they snatch the lamb and hurry away. Only a young wolf fights with dogs. It hunts by strength. You need to be like lightening against a wolf.”
The cold, dry air came down at night like a sharp knife, chilled.
They went back to the sheep-pen. But Yellow Dog was making a terrible noise, crying and groaning.
Kul Hasan turned up the wick of the lantern and saw the wounds for the first time. Yellow Dog had taken it bad and was in pain. Straight away he heated some ointment, wiped the bloody areas with a wet cloth and spread on the tepid balm. The ointment was made from different kinds of grass and worked well on wounds. He did this several times. An oak log spat and sparked in the stove. Yellow Dog stretched out, never once looking to the bowl of milk placed for him. He was groaning and letting out long cries. He was clearly in pain. Later the groans subsided, became whimpers, as Yellow Dog dozed into sleep.
By morning he’d drank half the milk. But he couldn’t get up. He looked Kul Hasan in the eyes. The old animated face had gone, now all that remained were those whimpering eyes and runny nose.
Outside, the wind tossed snow around. That day the flock stayed in the sheep-pen, ate dry grass all day.
Soon two months had passed. Trees again came into leaf. The ridge was once more covered with poppies, daisies and wild grass. Yellow Dog walked with a limp.
From nowhere Kul Hasan found two more dogs. Yellow Dog seemed unconcerned. He lay in front of the pen and thought for long hours. Unlike before, now there was no special food for him. He tried to fill his stomach with anything he could find. Worst of all, the shepherd no longer spoke to him. It said something about his worth.
One day Yellow Dog got up and left. Kul Hasan noticed two days later. When he couldn’t see him in front of the pen he’d started to search. He was nowhere to be seen. He went to the spring in the middle of the giant oak. He wasn’t there either. He climbed into the valley:
“Yellow, Yellow!” he called out. No answer came.
Days passed and the shepherd lost hope. His heart felt heavy. Then, as he was going to the village of Kirmizi Tash, he found him in front of an empty pen. He was dying. Two of the villagers had brought him there. They’d fed him too. His eyes opened and closed as he groaned faintly. Sometime afterwards he died. Yellow Dog did not forgive Kul Hasan.
Translated from the Turkish by George Messo