Dog Tales by Fred Cartan

The Hero and the Herder

This story happened some years ago, not a few and not too many, in the east where the Khan ruled. The Khan's folk were herders, and lived in the valleys where the grass was watered by streams from the snow-covered mountains. They raised sheep for their wool, skins and meat, and raised fast horses. All were great riders and bold fighters. All were used to hardships, cold weather and hard work.

The Khan had grown old and had no sons, only a beautiful and wise daughter, Jasmin. The Kahn worried about the dogs he ruled and he thought long about what would happen to his people when he should die. After consulting with Jasmin and his faithful old Vizier, who knew many strange things, he decided that it was time to find a kind, wise and just young dog to take his place.

In the fall he sent messengers to all the tribes he ruled telling them that each should select the best young unmarried dog from their group to come to the capital city in the spring to see if there was one dog who might rule the Kahn's realm. They would be tested so see if they were fit to serve the folk as Khan. The messengers told all the tribes that the young dogs who came must be exceptional for the tests would be difficult. If they passed the tests, the Kahn and his daughter would question them to find if they were suitable and should one be found, he would marry Jasmin and become Kahn when the old Kahn died.

Jasmin was a beautiful young dog with great dark eyes and lustrous brown fur. She was quiet and slim and all liked her because of her quiet nature, helpful manner and soft voice. Her reputation had spread across the land and many fine young dogs had come and asked the Kahn for her as wife, but she would have none of them.


Two of the Khan's tribes lived in a long valley far from the capital. A large stream ran down the valley to the desert below. The mountain ranges on one side of the valley were very high, had snow all through the year and many streams came down to the valley stream, providing much water and grass. One tribe lived on this side of the valley, had many herds of sheep and herder dogs to care for them. This tribe was rich and prosperous.

This tribe's elder had a brave young son, Abdul, who was a great hero. He was tall and strong with flashing brown eyes and muscular arms. He had fought the Khan's enemies with his flashing scimitar and with his iron helmet, his iron-bound shield and strong leather armor and fine leather boots and his fearless riding horse he struck fear into the hearts of all who saw him.

When the Khan's enemies sent their strongest heroes against him, he bested them. When the Khan's enemies sent many dogs against him at one time, he bested them all. He captured much rich loot and much new land for the Khan. His bravery and skill in battle were known even outside the Khandom.

The tribe that lived on the other side of the valley stream, had fewer advantages. The mountains on their side of the valley were lower and had snow only part of the year. The streams that watered their grass land were smaller that those on the other side of the valley. They had fewer herds of sheep and horses and fewer herder dogs to care for them. They were not rich but all had food and warm clothing and some few luxuries.

The elder of this side also had a fine handsome strong son, Mamud. He was tall and strong with grey eyes and light brown fur. He was no warrior. He had not fought the Khan's enemies. He had stayed at home to help the tribe, to trade with visitors, and protect their herds.

He was not fearless but he was brave when he must be. Once, while guarding a flock of sheep, a great white tiger came. The tiger was almost as big as Mamud's horse. She roared loudly, and showed her long sharp claws and great white fangs. She bounded towards Mamud as if she were about to eat him.

Mamud stopped. He stood up tall in his saddle and pushed his iron-tipped lance in front of him. "Tiger," he said, "You are strong but you shall not eat our sheep. If you do not leave, I shall strike you with my lance and my scimitar and cause you pain."

The tiger growled louder, but seeing Mamud ready to fight, she thought, "I am stronger, and faster and might win a fight, but even so he may hurt me. I don't like pain. Perhaps it would be better to leave and find easier food for my cubs." And so the white tiger walked away, turning her head now and then to growl and watch Mamud. When the tiger left, Mamud was relieved.


When the Khan's messenger came to Abdul's tribe and told him of the Khan's request, Abdul was delighted. "I will be the new Khan," he said. "I am the best fighter in the Khandom. All dogs fear me. Why should I not be Khan and marry Jasmin." He thought to himself, "I must take rich presents to the Khan and Jasmin. All young lady dogs like gifts. She will surely wish to marry me."

When the Khan's messenger came to Mamud's tribe, the entire tribe listened to him. Mamud's father then asked all the tribesdogs if there was anyone in their tribe who should go to the capital in the spring and be try to become the new Khan.

They all talked together. Finally, an old herderdog spoke up. "Mamud should go," he said. "He is not a great fighter but he treats all dogs fairly. He would be a good Khan." Mamud's father said, "Good. Mamud will go to the capital in the spring. We are a poor tribe and cannot take rich gifts, but if the old Khan is just, and gives Mamud a fair hearing, perhaps he will become the new Khan."

It was a cold winter. There was much snow in the mountains and cold winds blew. Everyone stayed in their yurts, where there were small fires burning and waited for spring. Finally, spring came and the sun began to warm the valley and the young grass began to grow.


Abdul gathered his servant dogs and told them to prepare for his trip to the capital. "It is a long way," he said. "I must go down the valley, through the gorge, and across the desert to the capital. I will take my two best horses. Be sure that my best clothes and my saddle with the silver ornaments are ready. I must look my best in the capital. I will take two camels to carry the gifts and fodder and water for the trip across the desert. One of you will go to do the cooking and other work. Be sure that all is ready for the trip or it will go badly with you."

Mamud told his father, "It will be a difficult trip. My friend, Jamal, the old herderdog will go with me. He knows the routes across the desert. We will take only three horses. We will try to show the city dogs that we are good dogs. Perhaps we can arrange some trade for the tribe."


Abdul started first. His horses and camels made a fine procession. The sun shown brightly. Near evening, Abdul and his procession came to a place where the trail dropped into a gully with a small stream flowing through it. An old mountain sheep was resting alongside the stream. Its horns were caught in the branches of a small bush. Its fur was almost white and its horns were scarred. It looked quite thin.

"Greetings, Abdul," the sheep said. "If you free me from this bush I will give you some good advice."

"How odd," Abdul thought, "a talking sheep."

"I am a hero," he said. "I will have my servant free you. But heroes do not take advice from old sheep."

"The trail ahead is dangerous," the old sheep said. "Nonsense," Abdul thought. "Heroes are not afraid of danger." And Abdul continued along the trail.

Soon, Abdul and his procession came to the gorge where the river flowed through a gap in the mountains. The trail crossed the river on a narrow bridge and went along the other side of the river and then crossed the river again on another narrow bridge.

The river was full of water from the melting snow. The river was high, and brown, and ran swiftly through the gorge. Abdul and his procession crossed the first bridge but when they came to the second bridge they found it was washed out. They had to ford the river. The rocks were slippery and the brown water in the stream made it dangerous. One of the horses slipped and lost his pack and it was all that Abdul and his servant could do to save him. They got cold and wet. Everything they carried got wet. They found that they had lost some food and much of the hay needed to cross the desert. They had to camp for two days to dry everything before they could continue.

Some days later, Mamud and Jamal followed. When they came to the gully, they found the same old mountain sheep with its horns caught in the bush. "Greetings, Mamud," the sheep said. "If you free me from this bush I will give you some good advice."

"How odd," thought Mamud, "a talking sheep." But he was too polite to ask about it. "I will free you," Mamud said. "You look hungry and should eat some green grass." Mamud freed him from the bush.

"Thank you," the sheep said.

"What advice do you have for me?" Mamud asked.

"The trail ahead is dangerous," the old sheep answered. "The river has washed out the bridge and it is not safe to ford the river. You must take the old trail that climbs over the mountain. It will be longer and difficult but safer for your horses and you."

"Thank you," Mamud said. He thought, "This sheep may be right, the warm sun will have melted much snow. We will take the old trail."

So Mamud and Jamal took the old trail over the mountain. It was steep, and a cold wind blew, and there was snow to cross. It took them an extra day but they returned to the trail with no other problems. They continued on towards the desert.


Abdul and his procession reached a stream at the edge of the desert. They filled their water skins and let their animals rest and eat the green grass for a day. Next day, they started across the desert. It was hot. The wind blew sand across the surface of the desert. There were no trails only rock and sand. They traveled towards a distant peak that could be seen on the horizon.

They traveled for half a day. When they came to a rise, they saw an old horse walking unsteadily towards them. The horse saw them. "Abdul," it said, "Help me. I am weak. I need water and grass or I may die."

Abdul thought, "Another talking animal that knows my name! But I suppose everyone knows a hero's name."

"I am sorry, old horse," Abdul said, "but we do not have water or food to spare. We must travel for two and one half days to reach the other side of the desert." But he smiled, pointing towards the snowy mountains behind him. "There is water and grass only one half days travel away. You can surely reach it." And Abdul and his procession continued across the desert.

A day or so later, Mamud and Jamal reached the stream at the edge of the desert. They too stopped and filled their water skins and let their horses rest and drink and eat grass for a day.

The next day they started across the desert. They traveled towards a sharp peak they could see on the horizon. After they had traveled across the sand and rocks for about half a day, they came around a tall rock. On the other side, they saw an old horse, resting in the shadow of the rock. The horse saw them. It tried to get up. "Mamud," it said. "Help me, I am weak. I need water and grass or I may die."

"Old horse," Mamud said, "we have little water and feed and we have two and one half days to travel before we reach the other edge of the desert." He patted the old horse. "But do not fear, we can spare you a drink and a little feed." Mamud gave the horse a drink of water from his waterskin and some grass from his packhorse.

When the old horse finished, Mamud said, pointing to the snowy mountains behind him, "Rest for a bit, then walk towards those mountains. You will find a cool stream and green grass one half day away. May God aid you." He patted the old horse again and then he and Jamal continued across the desert.


Abdul and his procession reached the other side of the desert. They found the trail leading along the edge of some cliffs. The trail was rocky. Just below them was a yurt and a stream with an irrigation ditch watering some apricot trees and a garden of melons. But, as they went along the trail, one of the horses knocked a rock loose. It fell over the cliff and rolled until it crashed into the yurt breaking one of the supports.

An old ladydog came out of the yurt, looked up and called to them. "Abdul, you have damaged my yurt. I have no one to help me fix it. You must stay and mend the damage."

Abdul thought, "She may be right but I am a hero and I should not waste my time fixing yurts. Besides, if I do not reach the capital before the Khan holds his audiences, I may miss the chance to become the new Khan." So he called to her and said, "I am sorry, old ladydog, but I must be in the capital and cannot stay and fix your yurt. Perhaps someone else will come and help you." And he and his procession went on to the capital.

A day or two later, Mamud and Jamal came out of the desert and found the trail along the top of the cliffs. They looked down and saw the yurt and the irrigation ditch and the melon patch and the apricot trees. And as before, one of their horses knocked a stone loose and it fell over the cliff. As it fell, it knocked a great large stone loose and this stone fell down the cliff and crashed into the irrigation ditch, and knocked out the side of the irrigation ditch. The water began to flow back into the stream instead of the melon patch and the apricot trees.

The little old ladydog, heard the rock fall and came out of her yurt. She looked at the damaged ditch. She looked up at Mamud and Jamal and called "You have damaged my irrigation ditch. I have no one to help me fix it. You must stay and mend the damage."

Mamud looked down and said to Jamal. "She is right, we must mend the ditch. If we do not fix it, her melon patch and her apricot trees will die and she may be hungry. Perhaps we will still be able to reach the capital in time for the Khan's audience."

So Mamud and Jamal came down to the yurt and began to fix the irrigation ditch. Because much of the ditch had washed away, it took them two days. As they worked, they told the old ladydog why they were going to the capital. They told her that they were from a poor but honorable tribe and had no gifts to give the princess.

When they were ready to leave, the old ladydog came to them and said, "You are honorable dogs. I have two small gifts for you to give to the princess Jasmin. Perhaps she will like them." And she gave Mamud a package of dried apricots, sprinkled with sugar and a fine woolen scarf she had woven from the fleece of the mountain sheep. Mamud thanked her and they hurried on to the capital.


When Abdul and his procession arrived at the Khan's palace, they were warmly greeted by the Khan's servants who took them to a fine residence where the other tribes's best young dogs were staying. The servants told them that the Khan would have his audience with all of them in a week.

Adbul had his servant clean his armor and polish his shield and boots. He made sure that his gifts were ready to give to the princess Jasmin. He washed himself and brushed his fur so that he would be sure to make the best appearance, befitting a hero.

He visited the other young dogs and tried to find out what gifts they had brought and what sort of warriors they were. He asked the Khan's servants about the tests, and when he would meet the princess Jasmin but they would tell him nothing. "Wait until the audience," they said.

Mamud and Jamal arrived just two days before the audience. The Khan's servants took them to the residence. Mamud had just enough time to clean his clothes and bathe and brush his fur before the audience.

The day of the audience came. The Khan's servants took them into the great hall. Each of the young dogs were seated in a fine chair in front of the Khan's throne.

The young dogs were all tall and handsome. Some had dark fur and some had light fur. All were strong. But Abdul was the tallest and the strongest of the young dogs.

Their gifts were arranged in front of them. There were many fine gifts. There were fine woolen clothes woven by the tribe's best weavers. There were even some silks from China. There were fine leather boots and fine scimitars. But the best gifts of all were Abdul's. His gold and jewels and fine fabrics made a fine display. The only gifts that Mamud had were the sugared apricots and the scarf the old ladydog had given him.

The pricess Jasmin came into the room. She greeted them all and thanked them for coming. She then sat down with each dog in turn and asked him about himself, his tribe, his travels and his plans for the Khan's dogs if he should become Khan.

She left and the Khan's servants came in and served each dog hot tea, sweet cakes and fresh fruit. The Khan came in, he greeted them and said "The princess has made her choice." He then came first to one and then another. He thanked them for their gifts, but said he must refuse them because the princess had not selected them. He asked about their tribes, and their needs and gave each young dog he talked to a rich gift and arranged for supplies they would need for their return trips. One at a time they left, looking downcast, until only Abdul and Mamud were left.

The old Khan spoke to Abdul. "You are the strongest and bravest young dog in my Khandom. None of the dogs here could beat you in battle. But you are not princess Jasmin's choice. I am sad for you. But a Khan must be the most wise and kind and just dog, not only a great warriordog. Mamud was the princess's choice.

"But what about the tests, great Khan?" Abdul asked. The princess and the Vizier had come into the room. "Abdul," she said, "they already have been given. I have chosen Mamud because he passed all my tests. But you will always be welcome in our palace."

Abdul returned to his tribe and explained what had happened to his father. "I still do not understand why I was not chosen," he said. His father only smiled.