Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2003 (11.3)
Pages 17-18

Stone Boy
From "Stories My Mother Told Me"

See Tribute to Aziza Jafarzade (1921-2003)

See also her short stories and books available free for download and printing at

The late Aziza Jafarzade is remembered for her short stories and historical novels. A teacher at heart, she was always concerned that young people become aware of their deep roots of folklore. Invariably, she would intertwine folklore into her narrative. Here is one of her stories based on a legend that attempts to explain the origins of the many stone figures of sheep found throughout the countryside.

Many brave and courageous men have lived in this world, my dears, and now I'm going to tell you about one of them. Even though his name is not written down in any book, everyone speaks about his courage and heroism. Anyone who has heard of his bravery never forgets him. Nor can I forget him. Every time I hear about him, tears well up in my eyes. You're not supposed to shed tears over brave men.

Stone monument resembling ram figures. 19th century. Kalbajar region.
Left: Stone monument resembling ram figures. 19th century. Kalbajar region.

They say that this story took place at the time of Lame Teymur. [In English, he is known as Tamerlane or Timur. Born near Samarkand, (now Uzbekistan) in 1336, he died in Chimkent (now Kazakhstan) in 1405.

Tamerlane conquered all the territory between Mongolia and the Mediterranean Sea and is remembered both for his barbarity and, ironically, for the cultural and artistic achievements of his dynasty].

Lame Teymur was ravaging the land and killing the people in the Shirvan region [northwest of Baku]. In those days, a very wise king ruled the Shirvan region. He had persuaded Lame Teymur not to attack [meaning that he bribed him, offering gifts to stave off his troops].

"Agsaggals" and "aghbirchaks" ["men with white-beards" and "women with white sideburns], in other words, the wise, old leaders of the community - had advised the king, to bribe Lame Teymur, insisting that even if the people of the Shirvan region were stripped of all of their possessions, at least the Motherland would not be destroyed.

It was during those years that a certain shepherd boy was tending shexep on the plains of Kudru. He had heard from peddlers and caravan merchants that Lame Teymur was somewhere in the region. Even though he had heard about him, he had not seen him.

The plains of Kudru. Springtime. At that time of year, the grass is very high, taller than one's knees. The shepherd was very young; you might even have considered him a child. His father had passed away not long before and so he had taken on the responsibility of tending the family's flock and taking caring of his mother and sister.

By then, Lame Teymur's troops had reached the plain of Kudru. I don't know if this story is true or not, but they say that some of his troops had lost their way in the endless desert plains and that Lame Teymur himself was among them. They were trying to join up with the rest of their troops, who were somewhere resting and waiting for them. Lame Teymur's men were very thirsty. The sun was blazing hot and their horses were panting from thirst. The animals and troops were sweating so much that their clothes and saddlecloths had become salty.

The members of the troops were starting to have visions of murmuring rivers, babbling springs and wind-swept lakes. But these were only mirages. There were no rivers or springs. There were no lakes on the Kudru plains; there were only small ponds. In the summer pastures, the water from melted snow collected in these pools. Both people and sheep drank from them.

Lame Teymur's troops had not found any of these pools, except some that had dried up. Finally, when the troops were very tired, they came upon the shepherd boy with his herd of sheep. Lame Teymur told his people: "I bet this boy knows where water can be found. Where would he water his sheep if he didn't know? Go and ask."

One of the horsemen went up to the boy and asked: "Hey, shepherd boy, is there any place nearby where we can water our horses?"

The boy looked up at the horseman and then started poking the ground with his staff. He replied: "Where could there be any water around here? There is no river, no lake, no spring."

Just then, Lame Teymur approached with his men. When he heard the boy's answer, he asked: "Then where do you water your sheep?"

The boy did not reply. Lame Teymur demanded again: "Didn't you hear what I said? Where do you water your sheep?"

The shepherd boy pointed to one of the dry pools with the end of his staff: "Over there in the pools..."

"Don't lie to me, shepherd boy, there is no water in those pools. They've long since dried up."

The boy thought to himself: "Everything dries up whenever you appear." But he answered: "The spring where I water my sheep is very small. It wouldn't be large enough for your troops."

The despot flew into a rage: "What's that to you, shepherd boy? Tell me where the water is! I'll give you gifts. I'll give you money - whatever you want..."

The shepherd boy replied again, poking the ground with his staff: "I don't need any money. And I won't tell you where the spring is or you will make it dry up, too."

"Do you know who I am?" demanded Lame Teymur.

"Of course, I know."

"Then who am I?"

"Lame Teymur..."

"Do you know that I can have you hanged? That I can turn you into food for dogs? I can butcher you into pieces. Do you know that?"

The shepherd boy looked straight into Lame Teymur's eyes and said: "I know."

All of Lame Teymur's men and troop leaders were astounded at the shepherd boy's courage. Could a child be so brave?

"Shepherd boy, show me where the spring is, don't make me angry!"

"The water is as sacred as the land, your Highness. One isn't supposed to show it to strangers. I wouldn't want to do anything to betray my country."

"This will cost you dearly, shepherd boy. I feel sorry for you because you're so young."

"Don't pity me. Let me be the one to be afraid. I'm the one who will pay with my life."

"Cut out his tongue...No, don't do that or he won't be able to tell us where the water is. Beat him! Beat him until he tells us where the water is!" ordered Lame Teymur.

Two of Lame Teymur's men stepped forward and started to beat the shepherd boy. The blows struck, like a snake, hitting the boy on his head, eyes, shoulders and back. But still the shepherd boy would not talk. He was as silent as a stone. He didn't utter a word. Lame Teymur's servants continued hitting the child. At last they stopped, seeing and that the boy was completely dripping in blood and that they couldn't force him to say a single word.

"Bastard! It's as if his body is made of stone rather than flesh."

Suddenly, Lame Teymur's eyes met those of the little shepherd. He froze in astonishment. He lifted the shepherd boy's shirt. Lame Teymur's troops held their breath in amazement: the shepherd boy had turned into stone. They looked around and saw that the boy's sheep had also turned into stone.

Lame Teymur's men became frightened. They quickly mounted their horses, as if they had seen the devil himself, and they galloped away from that mysterious, strange land.

Since those times, you can see sheep made of stone and other stone monuments everywhere in those lands. They say that the knowledge of the shepherd boy's courage spread throughout the villages, hamlets, and even to the cemeteries. It spread everywhere so that everybody could see what brave sons this land had. May this country always be the Motherland of brave men.

Translation from Azeri by Gulnar Aydamirova. This, and other short stories along with several novels by Aziza Jafarzade and other Azerbaijani and international authors can be found at Azerbaijan International's Web site dedicated to Azerbaijani literature. Search at

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