A Prisoner in the Caucasus - extract from my translation

A Prisoner in the Caucasus

opening of Part 1

Circassia, a village: the menfolk were sitting at ease in their doorways.  Born and bred in the Caucasus, they talked about the unrest and destruction of war, about the fineness of their horses, about the pleasures of their wild, free lives; and they exchanged memories of the past – the raids when they carried all before them, the tricks their clever chieftains used to play, the vicious thrusts their swords delivered, their deadly aim as marksmen, the villages they burned to ashes, and the gentle touch of the dark-eyed girls they took captive. 

        They chatted on in the stillness, while the moon floated aloft in the evening mist.  Suddenly a mounted Circassian galloped up in front of them, dragging a young prisoner on a rope.  ‘A Russian – look!’ cried the raider.  The villagers quickly gathered round in an angry throng.  But the prisoner lay cold and silent, with bloodied head, motionless like a corpse.  He did not see the faces of his enemies; he did not hear their shouts and curses.  A deathly coma cast its shadow on him, enveloping him with a baleful chill.

        For hours the young prisoner lay in heavy stupor.  Not till the midday sun shone cheerfully overhead did the life-force stir within him, and he gave a muffled groan.  Warmed by the sun’s rays the poor fellow slowly raised himself up and looked feebly around. …  He saw the mountain massif towering inaccessibly above, eyrie of marauding tribes and rampart of free Circassia.  The young man remembered: he was a prisoner – or was it just a horrifying nightmare?  Then he heard the sudden clank of the chain round his legs.  The dreadful sound told all.  The scenery around grew dim.  Goodbye to freedom, precious freedom!  He was a slave.

        He was lying behind some huts by a thorny hedge.  The Circassians were in the fields; there was no one on guard;  in the empty village all was quiet.  He could see the valley floor, deserted, stretched out before him like a green coverlet.  Beyond, the hillsides rose in stages to a regular line of mountain peaks; and among them a lonely track lost itself in a forbidding remoteness.  The young prisoner’s heart was troubled by a heavy thought. … That distant road must lead to Russia – the land where his youthful fire had first blazed with self-confidence and unconcern; the land where he had experienced life’s first thrills, where he had loved so much, where he had courted such dreadful anguish.  Yes, it was there that he had let his turbulent life-style ruin his hopes, his pleasures, his desires, locking within his blighted heart the memory of better days…