A Boy in Botai

A story for our group, genre: biography. Not sure how well this fits, but I’m pretty happy with how the story turned out.

Most people who have fundamentally affected the entire human race are well known. Their names are embedded in time, known to generations of people. But others are not so lucky, and though the lives they led have undeniably transformed history, their names have been forever lost. But their stories remain, and so do the legacies they left behind.

Our story starts in the village of Botai, in what is now known as northern Kazakhstan. Early one spring morning, a baby boy was brought into the world, tucked safely inside a horse-skin tent while winds snaked across the endless steppe. His mother gave him a name, but it was blown away by the ever flowing winds, and we have no knowledge of what it was.

The boy grew up to be strong, fed on mare’s milk and the meat of the horses that surrounded him. Horses were life in Botai; nearly everything in the village came from these majestic beasts. The villagers used their meat and milk for food, their skin for leather and for their tents, and their bones for weapons.

By the time he was five, the boy knew the name of every horse in the small herd his family maintained. They were almost all mares; males were slaughtered before the age of five to provide the villagers with meat. At night the horses were corralled in rough pens. During the day they were free to wander, followed closely by a human to ensure their safety.

When he was twelve, the job of guiding and protecting the herd fell to the boy. Day after day, the child would release the herd, wandering with them and his faithful dog. There was the small bay mare who held dominion over all the other horses; the timid chestnut who spooked at every sound; the grey who was enamoured with the boy and who guarded him as if he were a foal of her own. He knew them all, their habits, their fears, their rank in the small herd.

As he grew the horses grew with him, each placing their faith in the small human and strange wolf that was constantly at his side. He cried when a foal was brought down by a wolf, lost forever to the wilderness of the steppe. He rejoiced with the grey mare when she had her first foal, a sturdy bay colt. Human and horse were one, each fiercely dependent on the other.

Horses were the boy’s life, but there were other creatures too. The dogs that helped their villagers hunt and herd, the wild sheep and antelopes that graced the plains, the wolves that were a constant threat to the villagers and their horses.

The boy’s family were herders, but they hunted too. Each hunt was a challenge, a test of skill, knowledge, and strength. The hunters knew their prey almost as well as they knew their horses, could recognize flocks and individual animals. The boy enjoyed the hunt, enjoyed testing his skills and proving his prowess to the other young men of the village.

But he also enjoyed the time he spent with the herd, the crisp winter mornings when he led the beasts across snow-covered plains that grasped the horizon, or the warm summer afternoons when he would simply watch the horses for hours on end.

It was on such a warm summer evening when our young man changed history. He was sitting on a small ridge, his dog happily nestled beside him. The herd grazed below, munching away on what grass they could find. A crude bandage covered the boy’s left arm — he had been injured during that morning’s hunt, gored by a buck that he had ambitiously tried to bring down.

Another herd drifted into view, followed closely by one of the other village boys. The young man waved to our hero, and trotted up the hill to join him on the ridge. The two herds blended into one, the horses used to grazing with one another.

A sharp laugh from the two men on the ridge made the timid mare throw her head up in alarm. The rest of the herd continued to graze, used to the antics of their young partners. They did take notice when one of the humans stood up and yelled, his voice taut with fury. The grey mare trotted up the hill, ready to protect her strange two-legged foal.

The two young men were arguing, the one pointing at the other’s bandage, laughing at the folly that had made the boy think he could take on a full-grown buck. The bandaged boy shouted back, angry and humiliated. In a desperate attempt to even the field, he yelled that while he might not be the best hunter in the village, no one could rival the bond he had with his horses.

It was just at that moment that the grey mare crested the ridge. She stood between the two humans, daring the one to continue attacking her foal. Her boy stood by her, gently stroking her neck, assuring her that he was alright. An impulse seized him; he wound his fingers through the horse’s mane, and in a single, graceful leap, swung himself onto her back.

This action, this small gesture of defiance, changed history. For the day that man first sat astride a horse paved the way for one of the most profound partnerships of all time. Horses connected cities, plowed fields, built and toppled empires. And it all began in Botai, with a young man who leapt onto the back of a faithful mare to sooth his wounded pride.

Cover image source

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