Kotura, Lord of the Winds

In a nomadic encampment in the far North, there lived a wise old man with his three daughters. They and their clan brothers and sisters herded yaks in the summer, and braved the cold winds and snow in the dark of winter. When the cold was so bitter that it would bite their hands and faces, they huddled together close to the stove, within their yurts. Even with their yak skins and felted woollen blankets, they would shiver throughout the long cold nights.

One winter, when the sun barely had the strength to rise above the horizon to the south, a storm raged so strongly that there seemed to be no end to the driving snow and fierce wind. After three days, no-one dared to leave their yurts, even to collect firewood, and families became hungry and cold, and feared that they might all perish in the storm.

The old man and his daughters sat close together to keep warm, and listened to the howling wind. The old man said: “If this storm continues for much longer, we shall all die. This is the work of Kotura, Lord of the Winds. He needs something from us.” They prayed together for the wind to stop, but it only became stronger. Finally, the old man concluded: “Kotura is requesting us to provide a wife from our clan, and although it pains me, you, my eldest daughter, must go to him and beg him to halt the blizzard.”

“But how can I go?” asked the girl, in alarm, “I do not know the way.” Her father gave the following instruction: “I shall give you a sled. Turn your face towards the north wind, push the sled forward and follow wherever it leads. The wind will tear open the strings that bind your coat; yet you must not stop to tie them. The snow will fill your shoes; yet you must not stop to shake it out. Continue until you arrive at a steep hill; at the top of the hill, only then may you halt to retie your coat and shake the snow from your shoes. Soon, a little bird will perch on your shoulder. Do not brush him away, be kind and caress him gently. Then jump on to your sled and let it run down the other side of the hill. It will take you straight to the door of Kotura’s yurt. Enter but touch nothing; just wait patiently until he comes, and do exactly as he tells you.”

Eldest daughter put on her coat, turned the sled into the north wind and pushed it forward as instructed, and she followed behind. After a while the strings of her coat came undone and the swirling snow squeezed into her shoes. However, she did not heed her father’s words; she stopped to tie the strings of her coat and she shook the snow from her shoes. Then she continued north, against the driving snow, until she came to a steep hill. At the top of the hill, a little bird flew down and tried to perch on her shoulder, but she waved her hands to shoo him away. The bird fluttered up and circled above her three times before flying away.

Eldest daughter stood on her sled and rode down the hillside until she arrived at the door of Kotura’s yurt. She entered and glanced about her; on the table was a joint of roasted venison. She was hungry from the journey, so she lit the stove to warm herself and the meat. First she tore off and ate some fat and then she tore off and ate some meat, and she continued until she had eaten her fill. At that moment, the door of the yurt opened and a handsome young giant entered. He gazed at eldest daughter and said in a deep, strong voice: “I am Kotura, and this is my yurt. Where are you from, girl? And why are you here?” Eldest daughter replied: “My father sent me to be your wife.”

Kotura frowned, fell silent and said: “I have venison from hunting. Cook it for me.” Eldest daughter did as she was told, and when the meat was cooked, Kotura told her to divide it into two pieces. “You and I will eat half,” he said, “and you must take the other half to my neighbour. Don’t go inside her home, but wait outside until the old woman emerges. Then give her the roasted venison and wait for her to return the empty dish.”

Eldest daughter went out into the dark night carrying the dish of roasted meat. The wind was howling and the blizzard raged so wildly that she could hardly see one step before her. She struggled on for a short distance, then came to a halt and decided to throw the meat into the snow. When she returned to Kotura’s yurt the dish was empty.

Kotura studied her and asked: “Have you done as I asked?” Eldest daughter replied “I followed your instructions in full.” “Then show me the dish so I can see what she gave you in return.” Eldest daughter showed him the empty dish. Kotura was silent. He ate his dinner and lay down to sleep. At first light Kotura presented eldest daughter with some untanned deer hides: “While I am out, you must clean and prepare these hides and make me a coat, shoes and mittens. When I return, I will decide if you are as clever with your hands as you are with your tongue.” With those words, Kotura went out into the tundra and eldest daughter set to work. By and by an old woman covered in snow came into the yurt and said: “I have a mote in my eye, child. Please remove it for me,” but eldest daughter replied: “I have no time for you, old woman. I have work to do.”

The old Snow Woman turned away and left the yurt and eldest daughter continued to clean and scrape the hides, and cut them roughly with a knife. When Kotura returned he asked to see the garments. He ran his hands carefully over them and he found them rough to the touch, poorly cut and carelessly sewn together. When he tried them on, they were altogether too small for him. At that he flew into a rage, picked up eldest daughter and flung her far into the dark night. She landed in a deep snowdrift where she quickly froze to death. And the howling wind became even fiercer.

In the encampment, the wise old man harkened to the increasing storm, and said to his two remaining daughters: “Eldest daughter has failed in her task. She did not heed my words. Kotura is now even more angry.” He turned to second daughter, and with a tear in his eye, he said: “You must go to him. There is no other way. Beg him to halt the blizzard and spare the clans.”

The old man gave second daughter a sled and the same instructions as her older sister. She put on her coat, turned the sled towards the north and pushed it forward as instructed, and followed behind. Soon the strings on her coat came undone and the swirling snow squeezed into her shoes, but she did not heed her father’s words. Instead she stopped to tie the strings of her coat and she shook the snow from her shoes. At the top of the hill, a little bird flew down and tried to perch on her shoulder, but she waved her hands to shoo him away. The bird fluttered up and circled above her three times before flying away.

Then she stood to her sled and rode down the hillside straight to the door of Kotura’s yurt. She entered, made a fire in the stove, ate her fill of roast venison and lay down to sleep. When Kotura returned, he found the girl asleep on his bed, and he said: “I am Kotura, and this is my yurt. Where are you from, girl? And why are you here?” The roar of his deep voice woke her at once and she explained that her father had sent her to be his wife. Kotura frowned, fell silent, then said gruffly: “I’ve brought venison from hunting. Cook it for me.” Second daughter did as she was told, and when the meat was cooked, Kotura told her to divide it into two pieces. “You and I will eat half,” he said, “and you must take the other half to my neighbour. Don’t go inside her home, but wait outside until the old woman emerges. Then give her the roasted venison and wait for her to return the empty dish.”

Second daughter went out into the storm carrying the dish of roasted venison. The wind was howling so hard and the night was so dark that she could see nothing at all. Fearing to take another step, she tossed the meat into the snow and returned to Kotura’s yurt. “Have you given the meat to my neighbour?” he asked. “Of course, I have,” she replied. “”Show me the dish so I can see what she gave you in return.” Second daughter did as she was told and Kotura frowned at the empty dish, but he said not a word and went to bed. At first light, he gave her some untanned hides and told second daughter to make him a coat, shoes and mittens by nightfall. “Set to work,” he said. “This evening I shall judge your handiwork.”

With those words, Kotura went out into the wind and second daughter began her task, eager to complete the job by nightfall. By and by, an old woman covered in snow came into the yurt. “I’ve a mote in my eye, child,” she said. “Pray help me take it out; I cannot manage by myself.” “Oh, go away and don’t bother me,” the girl replied crossly. “I am too busy to leave my work.” The Snow Woman turned and left without another word. At nightfall, Kotura returned from hunting and asked to see the garments. He tried them on and saw at once that they were poorly cut and much too small. He flew into a rage and flung second daughter even further than her sister, where she quickly froze to death in the deep snow.

Back in the encampment, the blizzard had redoubled its force. “My daughters did not heed my words,” the old man reflected sadly. “They have angered Kotura even more. You must go to him, my youngest daughter, though it breaks my heart to part with you; but you alone can save our clan from certain death.”

Youngest daughter left the camp, turned her face towards the north and pushed the sled before her. The wind was unbearably cold and the snow almost blinded her. Yet she staggered on through the blizzard mindful of her father’s words. The strings of her coat came undone, but she did not stop to tie them. The snow forced its way into her shoes, but she did not stop to shake it out. And although her face was numb and her lungs were bursting, she did not pause for breath. Only when she reached the hilltop did she halt to shake out the snow from her shoes and tie the strings of her coat. Just at that moment, a little bird flew down and perched on her shoulder. She gently stroked his downy breast. When the bird flew off, she stood on her sled and glided down the hillside to the door of Kotura’s yurt.

Without fear, youngest daughter went boldly into the yurt and sat patiently to wait for Kotura to arrive. Before long, the door flap was lifted and a handsome young giant entered. When he saw youngest daughter he said: “I am Kotura, Lord of the Winds and this is my yurt. Where are you from, girl? And why are you here?” “My father sent me to ask you to calm the storm,” she said, quietly. “For if you do not, our people will die.” Kotura smiled and said: “Make up the fire in the stove. I’ve brought home some venison from hunting. I am hungry and you must be too, for I see you have touched nothing since you arrived.” When the venison was cooked, Kotura instructed youngest daughter to divide it into two pieces. “You and I will eat half,” he said. “And you must take the other half to my neighbour. But you are not to go inside her home. Wait outside until the old woman emerges. Give her the roasted venison and wait for her to return the empty dish.

Youngest daughter went out into the snowstorm carrying the dish of roasted meat. It was utterly dark and freezing cold, and she had no idea in which direction to go. Then suddenly, the little bird flew down, and he began to guide her with his song. She followed the bird until she saw a wisp of smoke spiralling upwards and mingling with the swirling snowflakes. Youngest daughter walked towards the smoke, and to her surprise, she found that it came not from a yurt, but from a mound of snow. She circled the snow mound in search of an entrance. Then a door opened and a very old woman, chewing on a black pipe, poked out her head and asked:  “Who are you, child and why are you here?” Youngest daughter replied “I come from Kotura, Grandmother, and I have brought you some roasted venison to eat.” The Snow Grandmother took the dish and went back into her snow residence. Youngest daughter waited, and eventually the old woman reappeared and handed her the wooden dish, and there was something inside. She thanked the Snow Grandmother and returned with the dish to Kotura. “You were a long time. Did you find Snow Woman’s home?” “Yes, I did, but it was a long way,” she replied. “Show me the dish so I can see what she gave you in return.”  The dish contained two sharp knives and some bone needles and scrapers for dressing hides. Kotura laughed and said: “You have some fine gifts to keep you busy.”

At dawn Kotura gave some deerskins to youngest daughter and told her to make him a coat, shoes and mittens by nightfall.” As soon as Kotura had left, youngest daughter set to work. The Snow Woman’s gifts indeed proved very useful: there was all she needed to make the garments. But to clean and soften hides takes time, and she knew that it would not be possible to complete the task in a single day.

All the same, she made her best effort. She dressed and scraped the skins, and cut and sewed so quickly that her fingers were soon raw and bleeding. Suddenly, the door flap was raised and in came the old Snow Woman. “I’ve a mote in my eye, child,” she said. “Pray help me take it out; I cannot manage by myself.” Youngest daughter set aside her work and soon had the mote out of the old woman’s eye.

“Thank you, my child,” said the Snow Woman. “My eye does not hurt any more. Now, child, look into my right ear and see what you can see.” Youngest daughter looked into the old woman’s right ear and gasped in surprise. “I see a maiden in your ear, grandmother.” Snow Woman replied “Then, why don’t you call to her? She will help you.” At her call, not one but four maidens jumped out of the Snow Woman’s ear and immediately set to work. They dressed the skins, scraped them smooth, cut and sewed them into shape, and very soon the coat, the shoes and the mittens were finished. Then the four maidens returned to the Snow Woman’s ear and she took her leave. As darkness fell, Kotura returned and he asked to see the garments that youngest daughter had made. She handed them to him and when Kotura passed his hand over them, the skins were soft and supple to the touch. He tried on the coat, the shoes and the mittens and they fitted him perfectly. Kotura smiled. “I like you, youngest daughter,” he said. “And my mother and four sisters like you, too. You work well, you have much courage, and you are honest and selfless. You braved a terrible storm so that your people might not die. You have been called here to serve. You will live with us as my beloved wife, and as our link to the people of the tundra.”

No sooner had the words passed from his lips then the storm was stilled, the clouds dispersed, and the sun began to shine. One by one the people emerged out of their yurts, and expressed their prayers of gratitude. Amongst them came the wise old man. His three daughters had surrendered themselves to the storm, and now he was alone, but they were tears of joy that rolled down his sunken cheeks, because he knew that youngest daughter had succeeded to save the people, and now she was with Kotura, Lord of the Winds.