The heat of the day faded and the soft, cooling winds came down from the mountain, swirling around the trees in the woods. The village was high up the mountain, with pine forests peppering the area. Ali and other Zars met in a clearing, far up that mountain, hidden from any mortals who might travel up the steep terrain. It was easy for the Zars, for they could float upwards, where they would perch on tree branches. They gathered to smoke the sweet hashish together and discuss details of the mortals around them. They would fill the bowl at the top of a big hookah, light it with a little small magic, sit cross-legged around the big glass bottomed pipe and each take a hose and suck in a lungful of the potent smoke. After a while each Zar would float to a branch in a tree, until the trees surrounding the clearing were hung with glimmering Zar-fruit.
Most of the Zars were around the same age. They were transformed into Demons at a time of life when they were still full of the vitality of men, just not their mortal lives. However they became to be, and of course the reasons varied, they seemed to have mortal interests. They gathered to discuss the business and gossip of the villages, the politics, the secrets and rumours of the prominent. Like men everywhere, they complained and groaned about the women they possessed. If human ears could hear this Zar-talk, they would hear the common, everyday concerns of men. Alas, they would only hear the sighing of the wind, the rustle of leaves whirled by eddies of air swept down from the mountain passes. No language for mortal ears to discern, but a constant moaning in the woods, enough to make a man turn back and run down to the world he knew. The woods in this region were known to be haunted by spirits, and though they suspected there were Zars up there, no one had ever seen evidence. There was just the sigh of the wind and the sweet lingering smell of hashish.
This evening the Zar-fruit discussed the Shahnamah. For thirteen centuries this book of wisdom ran like a river through the minds of Persians to the ultimate ocean of life. The book spoke of wisdom, and to some of the men-spirits this was to know good from evil. To others, sitting on the branches, with eyes distant and unfocused by the hashish, wisdom was the dispensing of justice and fairness. Whatever an individual Zar thought, there was sure to be an opposing opinion. For Adil, Benan, Emir, Ali, Hasan, and quiet Derin, all were Zars of intelligence and former distinction. At one point, Emir, who was considered by some to be a poet, quoted an old verse he had worked upon for many centuries. He revisited the garden of memories to versify his experience and refine it now when mortal toil was beyond his reach.
“Take to delight the presence
from this two-way abode.
We would not meet each other
Once we pass through.”
Ah! To some of the Zars this was the sad essence of life. To others, it was not. Good they had taken of the pipe before they began to discuss Emir’s verse, for the argument could have grown fierce. Sadly, they were just spirits. Their impact upon mankind was long past.
But not in the plans of Ali.
In life, he had been a Berber chieftain of the Tuaregs tribe. He was a natural leader of men, had been known for his courage and fierce sword play. He had stood on the edge of the desert, robed in blue gowns and indigo veils, looking out from his encampment, and counted the horses grazing before him. He had raided other tribes, and the scars on his body were the badges of his courage. He was a tall man in life, with flashing dark eyes and flowing dark hair he wore braided with gold coins. Gold earrings glittered in his ears and a gold torque around his neck signified his status in the tribe. He came from warriors, and his young sons by his wives would be raised as warriors.
He was killed by a traitor while in the arms of his second wife, in the throngs of passion. When he was judged by the Mullahs in Paradise he was found wanting, for he had chosen to remain with the gods and goddesses of his ancestors. Plus he made the foolish mistake of not having his sword by his side. This condemned him more for they once had been men themselves. So Ali ben Gaia du Naravas, first son of the illustrious father of the tribe, and a new Berber poet, was cast out of Paradise, and condemned and branded a Demon. No longer would the smell of the wind from the desert fill his nostrils. No longer would he see the sun fall to the horizon over endless dunes. He would not hear the ney and soft drums played by Berber tribesmen around a fire at night, nor see the women dance, their hair swirling outward like black waves upon a roiling nighttime sea.
Ali’s fate was to roam the mountains far north of the desert, where other demons, some with similar crimes, some from countries unknown to him, shared their sad stories and their longings for home and family. Most had been wandering for thousands of years, taking residence where they could fine suitable quarters. Ali was fortunate in the choice of Shakira, for she was intelligent and comely. She was also passionate and demanding. Ali expected to remain with her for a long time, though it was a matter of opinion who was possessed by whom. Ah! That Shakira was a strong woman, and never boring. Sometimes annoying but all women were to some extent.
These mullahs would upset the apple cart in the name of their one God, Allah. He was a jealous god, no different from the Christian’s Christ or whoever the Jew’s God was when you thought about it. Ali missed the tolerant and easy gods of his youth. So, he had a reason for bringing together these Zars this fine evening. If he could get these hashish-sodden demons to agree, together they could have one sweet revenge on the Mullahs.
“Ali my friend!” Hasan , from a village across the great ridge, called out to Ali.
“We hear all over the mountain the Mullahs from Ankara are interested in our women. What do you my fine friend, know of these rumors?”
Ali smiled from his perch in an alder tree. His white teeth gleamed like bleached bones in the gathering darkness.
“Hasan, my brother! I hear the Mullahs have been warned by the mayor of our village that our women are holding zars. They must stick their narrow noses where the women are concerned.”
The sound of sighing wind was heard amongst the trees. This concerned them all, and they struggled to focus their attention on the words of both men.
“Ah”, chimed in Benan, from the village closest to Ali’s. “So that’s why those men were closed up for a day. Our elders went from the mosque to the home of Imam Kaleel and stayed there for hours. I only heard bits and pieces over the wind. May Ammon and Isis protect us!”
At the mention of these two earliest gods of the Berbers and their cousins, the Egyptians, the Zar Demons kissed their closed fist and touched their foreheads in the old Berber self-blessing.
Ali’s eyes flashed, his heart lept in his chest. Each Zar perched on a branch would have had the same reaction. Ah, thought Ali. Our Gods are forbidden to us. The religion of the Arabs has replaced the true religion of our ancestors. Ammon will have his revenge. The defeat of our culture has taken them ten centuries, but there still is resistance amongst our living tribesmen to the north and south of the desert.
Berbers still, and with this Ali concocted a plan.