Sweet Free Summertime Reads!

In spite of the rolling syllables of his name Marius Quintillus Sextus was a plain man, plain of features and plain-spoken, and perfectly aware that the Military Governorship of Kythera was a two-edged sword. On one hand, the climate was pleasant and the women had the reputation of being as friendly as they were beautiful. On the other side of the coin, the politics were murky, the religion beyond understanding, and the corruption all but defied belief.

However, he determined to do as good a job as circumstances would permit, and by the time the season of the Bull Dancing was upon them, he and his staff had begun to create order from the chaos left behind by an ineffectual predecessor and his unscrupulous staff.

As tradition demanded, the Governor took a break from his duties to attend the first Bull Dances of the season, alongside the great and the good of Kytheran society. 

First up were the littlest dancers who practised jumps and forward rolls and back flips with the aid of imitation bulls made of wood and leather and pushed around on wheels. Marius leaned forward in his seat and applauded the tiny tots’ remarkable athleticism. When their display was over the little ones ran to the side of the arena in front of the governor’s box and all bowed. Marius had done his homework, and was able to broadcast handfuls of wrapped sweetmeats to the row of children who scrambled for the largesse before running off. 

As the age of the participants rose, their bovine opponents grew fiercer, and the dances grew more and more complex and beautiful. Time and again, Marius found himself on the edge of his seat as the young men and women demonstrated levels of courage, skill, timing and athleticism that put anything else he had ever seen to shame, as they vied to snatch brightly coloured ribbon rosettes from the horns of the cattle. 

He thought he had seen all there was to see and was even becoming a little blasé when the arena gates opened to allow in a huge black bull with sharpened gilded horns and polished hooves. The stable hands whistled and banged pots and the bull careered around the arena working itself up into a state of absolute rage. When it was all but foaming at the mouth, a single bare-breasted girl ran onto the raked white sand – dancing over, under, and around the furious animal, which carried a white ribbon rosette between its horns.

“That is Pasiphea,” Marius’ secretarius murmured, “three seasons champion”.

The girl was like quicksilver, with a taut, athletic little body that had even the normally pragmatic Marius thinking distinctly erotic thoughts. He watched narrowly, coming to realise that she could have snatched the rosette many times and that she was putting on a show for the assembled company. In a final flourish she performed three forward flips along the enraged animal’s spine before plucking the rosette and jumping neatly to the ground. 

Then disaster struck. The raked white sand must have been poorly packed and the dancer landed with her foot in a hole. As she went down in a heap the bull was facing away from her, but it was only going to be a matter of time before it turned.

Excerpt from The Bull Dancer which can be found in Pulling the Rug Two by Jane Jago one of many books of poetry, short stories, and full-sized fictional adventures you can find in the Sweet Free Summertime Reads giveaway!

Granny Knows Best – Sunbathing

I am, in case you had failed to notice, of an age where suntanned skin resembles nothing more than a pair of worn out walking boots: wrinkled, crumbling and deeply unattractive. Which is just one of the many reasons I don’t sit in the sun….

For more reasons I don’t indulge read on.

It’s boring. You can’t read because the sun gets in your eyes. You can’t hold a conversation because your brain is too hot to be arsed. And even Gyp won’t entertain you because he has sufficient sense to have sought shade.

It’s sweaty. Your undertit area will be sticky. Your armpits will be miniature waterfalls. And even your hair will be sweating.

It’s bad for you. If the spectre of melanoma doesn’t scare you, fine. Me? I’m in enough trouble with the ciggies.

So then. The advice on the sunbathing front is – don’t do it.

If the sun is hot take yourself somewhere shady and equip yourself with an ice-cold beer. 

But. But. Do I hear you say?

A suntan looks healthy. It doesn’t. It just looks like a suntan.

Being tanned is slimming. It just isn’t. 

Need I say more?

However. If you really must feck with your skin colour there are options that don’t involve self-barbecuing.

Sunbeds. Just as boring as ordinary sunbathing, and arguably not any better for your health.

Spray tan. Almost always weirdly orange.

Self-tanning lotions. Streaky and stinky and orange.

Moisturiser with a hint of self tan. Probably the least obscene option if still a tad satsuma in colour. 

To conclude. Do. Not. Sunbathe. And think carefully before you apply any sort of fake tan. There are horrible warnings out there. Look at them and think.

You can now have a collection of Granny’s inimitable insights of your very own in Granny Knows Best.

Coffee Break Read – The Crumbling Wells

The water in the crumbling wells is sweet, and in the time of our mothers’ mothers, women of incomparable grace fetched that water in the dawn light, balancing the ewers on their slender shoulders. But the world changes, and as time went on, water was piped to the village, after which the two-mile hike to the wells rather went out of fashion, with only a few of the older women clinging to the belief that well water tastes better than that from a pump in an a tap house at the centre of the village.

Nobody thought too much about the wells until one Sulieman, son of Sulieman, a handsome smooth-skinned, well-to-do young man of little conscience but some local importance, bought the field next to the wells from old Ibrahim. This young man had some entrepreneurial ambitions, and declared the wells his property too. He informed the village that from now on water would cost one Lek per ewer, and that he was going to build a bottling plant and sell crumbling wells water in the city. Even this would have bothered nobody much, had not one of the old women who still regularly collected the cold sweet water been the mother of the village headman.
To say she was furious was to understate the case enormously, and she berated her son as a coward for allowing such a thing to happen. He shrugged and did nothing, as men will. His mother carried on going to the wells every morning, until the day a crowd of hired bravos blocked her way and beat her with bamboo staves until her face was running with blood. For the first time in sixty years, Fatima returned to the village without her water. The whole village was in immediate uproar that such a venerable lady should be so mistreated. They forgot how spiteful Fatima could be in their anger at her bleeding face and limbs. She allowed herself to be fussed over and fed the villagers’ indignation with a show of uncomplaining bravery. It wasn’t until after dark that she gathered certain things together and began to work her malice.
The elders sent for Sulieman. He appeared in front of them with a somewhat truculent expression on his smooth, round face. To his surprise, no mention was made of Fatima’s injuries, instead he was told that as the owner of the wells he was responsible for repairing their crumbling brickwork. Until such time as the repair work was carried out to the satisfaction of the whole village no charge for water could be made. The young entrepreneur bridled, but the elders stood firm. They would fetch in a law writer from the city to enforce their ruling if they were ignored. Sulieman knew himself outmanoeuvred, but determined that he would not be beaten.
That night Fatima, and a lush-bodied young girl Sulieman had used and discarded, made their way to the place of the wells. They were there for some time.
Sulieman called in a family of well diggers from a neighbouring village. They looked at the wells and promptly declined the job. Three more groups declined the contract, before a family from many days’ walk away accepted the job unseen. They arrived at the wells and were obviously shocked by what they saw. They sat together on the dusty ground and pondered. In the end, they packed up their tools and left. Sulieman stood in the middle of the road and tried to stop them leaving.
‘You cannot go. You agreed.’
‘You didn’t tell us about the curse.’ Then the oldest of the well builders shut his mouth firmly and led the way back through the forest to his own village.
While all this was happening, many, many people decided they now wanted to drink well water and a steady stream of containers was filled every day. It started in the pearlescent light of dawn with the old women and their pottery ewers, and carried on all day as the more modern ladies fetched water in plastic containers balanced precariously on the seats of foul-smelling mopeds. Sulieman watched helplessly as his dreamed of profits slipped through his smooth, oiled fingers.
Greatly discomposed, he dipped deeply into his pockets and called on the services of a professional curse-lifter from a town many miles away. The old man arrived in a battered minivan, accompanied by two of his wives and a live chicken. He strode into the place of the wells with confidence writ large in every inch of his scrawny frame. He was back within two minutes with a white face and shaking limbs. He got back into the minivan and drove away. Sulieman never saw the man again, or his money.
After spending ten days alternately ranting and sulking, Sulieman did what he should probably have done in the first place, and made a visit to the holy man who inhabited a modest cave in the foothills of the great mountain two days’ walk from the wells. Of course, Sulieman didn’t walk, indeed the two-hour climb from the road to the hermit’s cave was almost too much for him and he reached the holy man on his hands and knees. He wasn’t there long, returning to his waiting jeep at great speed, slipping and sliding and snarling. His driver and guard both kept closed mouths and Sulieman sat biting his nails as the jeep sped back along the dirt road. Nobody cared to ask him what the hermit had said. Whatever it was it had dire consequences.
Sulieman’s luck went bad. His goats sickened, his fields bore no crops, his fiancé found somebody she liked more, and even his hair started to fall out. He stood this for one half of one year before calling a meeting with the village elders at which he apologised for any misunderstanding in the matter of the crumbling wells and withdrew all claim to the wells and their water. Then he packed a small bag and left the district never to return. Fatima burned the doll with his hair and fingernails in its belly, and life in the village returned to normal.

The water in the crumbling wells is sweet, and women of incomparable grace still fetch that water in the dawn light.

©️ Jane Jago

The Best of the Thinking Quill – Point of View

Buenos dias mis hijos,

It is one, Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV, author, pedagogue, genius, and all-round good egg. Out of the kindness of my heart, and the largeness of my soul, and the sharpness of my intellect, I have elected to brighten your darkness, educate your ignorance, and lift your aspirations. By following my simple guides to literate and effective script, you too may aspire to the success – both in the annals of Mamon and in the estimation of the intelligentsia – of my own seminal novel ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’.

My intention to write this piece crystalised in my mind just yesterday morning when Mumsie threw open the door to my bijou writing sanctuary, her face an interesting shade of puce and mouthed some words at me, which I could not quite discern as I had the climax of the 1812 Overture playing in the background at the volume such an impressive piece deserves.

Without so much as a warning, Mumsie pulled the plug and deafening silence ensued. In the polite and restrained conversation which followed, I learned that apparently, the cannon fire had been loud enough to disturb the neighbours and even waken dear Mummy from her post libatious slumber. But, as I kept repeating, very reasonably if to no avail, how was I to know? It was not as if I could read her thoughts.

Ah, but the world of fiction is so much more amenable to such things, as I shall reveal to you my dear Reader Who Writes. And thus, having established both my bona fides and my intentions, we can move on to this week’s lesson. Pay attention…

How To Start Writing A Book: The Write Point of View

There is a great deal of advice out there on the vexed topic of point of view. Should one write in first person? Or perhaps close third person? Or omniscient third person? Or? The arguments rage long and bitterly. Devotees of each and every style consider their own personal favourite the only possible option and bitterly denigrate anyone with the temerity to disagree.

I am here to demystify the process in my usual and inimitable style. My dear little bunnies… It doesn’t matter.

Set yourself a scene and write it however it feels most fitting.

Write as if you sat above your protagonists on a pink and champagne-laden cloud. Write as though your prose was dragged screaming and turgid from the entrails of your damaged hero. Write from the careless and unfeeling head of your beautiful female antagonist. Write all three at the same time – one’s own preferred method of procedure – at least then your millions of fans will miss none of the nuances of meaning and intention.

All I will say is that the head hop, so despised by the horde of amateur lectors out there in ‘gosh I’m a published writer’ land, is the finest tool in the hand of those with true talent and exquisite sensibility. How will one’s readers know the texture of a lover’s skin, but also appreciate the blackness at beauty’s heart? Or how shall the simple folk following the journey of your broken crusader understand both his magnificence and his utter bleakness?

No, my students, hop from head to head as the muse wills. It will result in a tapestry of textures and emotions, both beautiful to the eye and instructive to the soul. This is the only way to allow your reader to immerse deeply into the bubbling cauldron of relationships and experiences that you are crafting for their delight.

And what of those philistines who would decry when you choose to write some sections in the first person and some in the third? Or when you write successive characters in the first person? These deluded individuals would have it that such stylistic magnificence is both confusing to the reader and hard to follow. Or they berate it for breaking their reading immersion. Poor precious darlings, say I! They should learn to engage with the author’s carefully chosen blend of points of view. They are lazy readers and not worthy of your literary outpourings. Shake the dust of their denouncements from your metaphorical feet with disdain.

So be bold and brazen, ignore the ignorant self-proclaimed ‘masters’ of the literary art. Whilst their poor prose may only allow scant glimpses of the inner processes of their characters, except perchance their chosen hero, yours will be as sunlight through the thickets of thought and feeling for every character who steps upon the stage of your story.

Until next. Escribe bien…

Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

You can find more of IVy’s profound thoughts in How To Start Writing A Book courtesy of E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

Coffee Break Read – Star Dust: 0101

Built upon an asteroid, these mighty habitation towers are the final stronghold of humanity in a star system ravaged by a long-ago war. Now, centuries after the apocalyptic conflict, the city thrives — a utopia for the rich who live at the top, built on the labours of the poor stuck below. Starway Pathfinders is a science fiction show that entertains the better off and brings hope to the poor…

The sleek, gleaming corridors and brilliant fake sunlight had Joah half convinced the very air was sweeter here than her home. They were on the floor below the Presidential Suite. She had never climbed so high before; even the most prestigious of the celebrity glitterfest awards she had been to were held in a posh venue several floors down. Zarshay, in her neat, fashion-conscious outfit and without the tight hood suppressing her hair, looked nothing like the ultra-rational Xexe Chay she played in the show. Instead she was transformed into the perfect appearance of a PA, radiating an aura of efficiency. It was on such occasions as this that Joah wished she was as good an actress.
The meeting room projected from the side of the tower with a solid but transparent strip running across the floor, offering a vertiginous vista of the city below. But in this room, you were not encouraged to look down. The ceiling gave the appearance of being intangible, and somewhere above them an illusory sky seemed close enough to touch, soft blue, the colour of Heila’s eyes, with fluffy clouds. Joah wondered what the trick of it was.
They were served by silent figures who could have been people or not, it was hard to tell these days. Drinks and nibbles. Zarshay nibbled. Joah didn’t. Her guts were too tight even to let her sip at the drink in front of her on the dark oval table.
The door opened several times as they waited, and each time Joah was half out of her seat before she realised it was not the president’s aide, just a lowly admin or security person doing a check. After the third false start, she felt Zarshay’s hand squeeze her own, reassuring and calming. Glancing at her, Joah saw she was wearing her best “we can do this” smile.
She knew when Dain Strand finally arrived. There was a sudden flotilla of fussing humanity filling the room and then he appeared. He shook Joah’s hand with a warm grip. She found herself thinking there was not too much family resemblance, but it did not surprise her to be dealing with a Strand. The president was renowned for liking to keep his extended family gainfully employed at a high level.
“Glad you could make it,” he said, as if they were friends and he had asked her over for a social event. He moved past her before she could reply, and settled into a chair on the other side of the table, flanked by two of his staff who Joah assumed were bodyguards.
“Look, let’s get down to business right away — I’m sure you have places you need to be, Ms. Meer, and so do I. Your show — the one about that spaceship. It’s a good show. Great show, in fact, I’ve not missed an episode since it started airing. The president loves it. He loves it a lot.” He stopped speaking as if that was all he had to say, and there was a moment of awkward silence.
“Uh — well, thank you for saying so. We do try to pack in as much fun and excitement as we can. I am happy you both enjoy it so much.” Joah bit her tongue to stop herself gushing.
“I do. A lot. And it has given the president an idea — something the whole of the City can get behind.” Dain Strand paused and suddenly Joah could see the family resemblance in the way he managed the moment. “The president wants to build The Golden Strand and he wants you and your crew to be a part of it.”
Joah closed her mouth, which had fallen open on the word “Strand”. Not for the first time, she wished she had even a fraction of Zarshay’s ability to act.
“I — I —”
“I know what you are thinking, and I promise you that you’ll get full royalties for use of the name and theme, and we’ll be packaging out some media prompts with your people getting to share a platform with the president for the launch of the project as well. But I’ll need you to make over all the blueprints, designs, everything, to my engineers.”
His expression was serious, but it had to be a joke.
“We don’t run to blueprints. It’s only some virtual modelling artwork,” she explained, hearing the edge of desperation in her own voice. “It’s not like it’s a real spaceship or anything.”
Dain Strand smiled and she felt the full force of his predatory charisma.
“I know that,” he said, lifting a hand as if waving away her protests. “But building it would be a project everyone in the city would get behind.”
Zarshay had been silent until then, but now she spoke.
“What I am hearing, Mr. Strand, is that you want to get the city to support this project, not that you want to build a ship to explore the galaxy.”
For a moment there was a cold silence, and Dain looked at Zarshay in a way that made Joah’s flesh creep. Then he laughed, a short, mirthless bark of sound, and leaned towards Joah.
“She’s good. If she’s on your business team, I can see why you do well.” He winked, and Joah suppressed a shudder. Then Dain was pushing himself to his feet. “Well, as we are on the same node here, I guess my work is done. I’ll leave the details to the legal team.”
Everyone rose and Joah had her hand pressed once more, then the president’s emollient hatchet man was gone.

Star Dust by E.M. Swift-Hook, originally appeared in The Last City, a shared-universe anthology. This version is the ‘Author’s Cut’ and differs, very slightly, from that original. Next week – Episode 0110

Did We But Love

Did we but love,
Our love might ease this parting of the ways
Did we but hope,
Then hope might lift us through the darkening days
Could we believe,
Belief might make us fear the ending less
Could we but pray,
We might have just one prayer of some success
If we had care,
Then one bright light the tunnel’s end might show
If we had sight,
We might see in the dark a candle glow
Could we find faith,
Then in that faith we might discern a chance
Could we find calm,
Perhaps we would find healing in a glance
Did we have peace,
Perhaps our fear of death would fade and die
Did we but love,
Why then we’d have the strength to say goodbye

© Jane Jago

Weekend Wind Down – Come To Hell

A sign hung down, still half attached to the top of the pay-booth, its broken back clapping against the heavy door set in the side of the small brick cabin. The words were barely visible:

…COME TO ….HELL…

Somewhere an owl shrieked and, despite herself, Jess drew a sharp breath. She took a step towards the broken, flapping sign and played the torch beam over it from end to end:

WELCOME TO SHELLEY’S FUNPARK

The owl screeched again and Jess smiled. You had to love it when the atmospherics played up to the occasion. It would only take a sea mist rolling in to turn this place into something out of an old-school Hammer Horror production. The really chilling thing was not any kind of supernatural danger here, it was the realisation that this was indeed an abandoned and empty place, with no one around who might have a phone she could use to call the roadside recovery and this place was a very long walk from anywhere. Only a year ago that would have meant very little. She might even have enjoyed the bracing breeze and the countryside at night. But not now. Now she would not make it more than a mile before she was crippled with pain.
The laughter carried on the night air, coming from behind the low roofed building immediately in front of her. At a guess it had once been some kind of cafe, but now it was heavily boarded up, metal shutters pulled over the windows, like a creature retreated into its shell.
Shelley’s Funpark? Why did that sound so familiar? Jess would have given it some more thought but the laughter came again, masculine, plural and loud. It was not from someone with any thought of trying to avoid attention. Still gripping the magnalight, its beam dimmed, Jessica made her way past the cafe-building and into the open area beyond.
The shadowy figures moving vaguely on the far side, close by the enclosing wall, sprang suddenly into stark relief and were revealed, as as an orange glow flared behind them. Jess froze, hearing drunken cheers as the fire took hold and watched as, like the ritual of some strange coven of witches, the group of youths all started throwing things into the flames.
She sensed this was indeed a ritual, though not one of any religious kind. Things were passing hand to hand, bottles of water and white cider. It was a scene she had witnessed a few too many times in her career. In her previous career, she mentally corrected and felt the small inner lurch of loss that always left in its wake.
Then someone moved right behind her and a pair of hands gripped her shoulders.
“Hey bros, look what I just found.”
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 
No. It doesn’t. 
It really doesn’t.
Not when it breaks you inside.
That was all Jess could think, standing, paralysed by her past. There was not even a conscious sense of fear, though she could feel her heart rate slam up and the floor drop away. It was as if her conscious mind had shot out of her body and hung suspended, mid-air, above it. There was nothing she could do. It was going to happen again.
The yelp seemed to come from a great distance away not from right behind, but the moment the grip was gone from her shoulders, it was as if she were restored. Restored to a body in panic. She would have run blindly, but there was a gentle touch on her arm and a girl’s face, looking at her. They ran together.
Jess had no idea where they were going, past half demolished buildings, and broken metal structures that reared like scaffold dinosaurs, against the moon-lit sky. The ‘bros’ were either more worried about what had happened to their companion or already too out of it to be able to give chase, because after a few shouts and some sounds of running feet, the night closed behind the two of them into quiet.
They went past the barrier with an old height restriction sign on it and cartoon-like pictures of stick men standing up in cars on a roller coaster, or leaning out, circled in red with a bar through the image.Then they were clambering over a heap of twisted metal beyond. It was not a hard scramble the way her guide was going, or a long one, which was as well because the shooting pains had started up in her legs as they reached what looked a bit like a metal box, buried in the middle of the debris. 
The girl touched her hand again, then opened the door making some kind of sounds, as if reassuring an animal. Then a small glow of light came from inside and Jess went in. 
She was not really sure what she had expected. But not this. It was almost obsessively neat and very clean. For a moment, Jess was thinking of paisley furniture and over-polished wooden floors, then chastised herself for assuming that the homeless could not also be house proud. For that was clearly what this was, a homeless person’s private shelter. There was a counter top along two sides and a closed fire on the third wall opposite a comfortable bed. It was more of a sleeping platform really, covered in an odd variety of multicoloured fleece picnic blankets. Two very large cats were curled in the middle and watched her with wary feline eyes.
Jess took it in then looked at her rescuer. The girl looked to be in her mid-teens, a runaway maybe. That realisation pushed Jess out of her bubble of self-concern and she mustered a smile.
“Thank you, I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t been there,” she said. The girl said nothing, just glancing briefly to the cats and then back to Jess. So she tried again:
“My name is Jessica Monday, what’s yours?”
The girl kept looking at her, but the silence went on.

From Maybe by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

Granny Knows Best – Nomenclature

Okay you horrible lot, listen up. Granny is about to impart knowledge.

If you are a married lady of a certain age, look across the room and consider your significant other. How does he appear?

Dashing, debonair and handsome

Rough, tough and dangerous

Slightly grubby and with jam on his vest

Tidily harmless in his cardigan and carpet slippers

If he is any of the first three it’s an even bet you don’t call him  your ‘hubby’….

Also for ladies who should be old enough to know better. What do you refer to your lady bits as?

Fanny?

Man Trap?

Minge?

Front bottom? 

If it’s any of the first three you probably still have a sex life….

Are you beginning to catch my drift here? What we call things matters.

If you call a man ‘hubby’ he will grow into the neutered tom cat smugness the word suggests.

If you really do call your fanny a ‘front bottom’ the chances of it ever getting a visitor diminish with the years as the terminology becomes more and more at odds with the age and the experience of the speaker.

My late husband – god rest his OCD little soul – once referred to me as the little woman, and wondered why I didn’t come across for a month. Although I am certainly a woman, I am far from being little and the term is pejorative in the extreme. It is like so many words used about women, being designed to remind the ‘fair sex’ of its position in society.

So let’s strip the cute nicknames bare, shall we?

Fur baby. Nope. It’s a cat or a dog or whatever. It is not a baby. Gyp is a dog and he is my best mate (except when he barfs on the floor). I would no more call him a ‘fur baby’ than buy him a pink coat and have his toenails painted. He needs to be allowed to be a dog.

Your tiny daughter has baby fat in bracelets around her wrists. You decide to call her ‘chubbykins’. She has body image issues for the rest of her life.

And so on.

Words have power.

So please stop fecking about.

And if you want to neuter the old man send him to the vet. It’s quicker and more dignified.

You can now have a collection of Granny’s inimitable insights of your very own in Granny Knows Best

Coffee Break Read – The Red Tent

It was ten times ten years since the day when the oasis ran red with blood, and an exquisite woman sat in a red silk tent out on the white shining sands. She was a realist, for all her transcendent beauty, and she knew, as surely as she knew her own name, that this was the last sunset she would ever see.
Fayruzi, named for her remarkable turquoise eyes, stared unseeingly out at the cruel whiteness of the sands and carefully considered her options. She was surrounded by the various means by which she could take her life, and all that remained for her was to choose the one she found least repugnant. There was poison, there were sharp blades, there was even a tiny decorative pistol taken from some long-forgotten ajnabi who had fallen foul of the desert, and there were the sands themselves. The killing sands. The unforgiving mistress of every creature that ran, crawled, swam or flew on her breast.
But wait. Do I hear you ask why such loveliness would choose to die? Of course she did not so choose, it was simply her ill luck to be the jewel of the zenana in a year when sacrifice was called for to propitiate the god and in remembrance of those whose blood stained the waters of the oasis all those years ago. It had been an easy choice for her husband, having no love for women, to give that which another man might have prized beyond his own life as his gift to the pitiless sands.
Fayruzi studied her own white hands and thought about the last possible choice: to simply do nothing. To sit and watch the moon on the face of the desert and await the coming of the dawn and the death priests in their blood-red robes. To await those who would slit her nose before dragging her by the hair to the oasis where they would stone her to death.
She sighed. Just once. And determined to await moonrise before making any decision.
As the moon lifted over the dunes, turning white to silver, Fayruzi lifted the pistol in one pale hand. It would, she reasoned, be the least painful and degrading way to meet her end.
She thought herself fantasising when the sound of hoofbeats came to her ear, and hallucinating when she saw a tall, black horse coming across the sand towards her. Unthinking she stood, and walked out onto the sand to meet her fate. The rider of the horse reached down a hand and she grasped it in both of hers, making a graceful leap onto the saddle in front of the burnous clad figure.
He smiled down at her and she saw his eyes were as black and lightless as the night sky.
As the bedou wheeled his horse and galloped back from whence he had come, it would have been apparent, had there been anyone left behind to see, that the horse left no footprints in the soft shifting sand.

It was ten times ten, and one more, years since the day when the oasis ran red. It was dawn, and the red tent once more stood on the white sand where the desert wind ruffled its silken walls. This year there was no sacrifice but the priests still came as tradition demanded.
The chief among them bent his head and entered the empty tent, except it wasn’t empty. An exquisite woman sat on a pile of cushions in the centre of the floor. She had a babe at her breast.
The old priest felt his heart leap into his throat as he recognised Fayruzi.
“Lady,” he said respectfully.
She turned her face to him, and he saw her eyes – as black and lightless as a desert night.

©️jane jago

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