“Tin Hinan”, Chapter 4

We walked out of the oasis and back into the ergs, the endless sand dunes, and within days the mountains loomed before us. We were approaching the highlands.   As we came closer, the thick forests seemed to go on forever.  Before were still in the foothills with their endless hammadas, stony deserts where our beasts stumbled at times. We saw scrub bushes and tough grasses and little else.  Now, at entrance to the highlands, we could see cypress and wild olives along with doum palm, oleander, date palms and thyme. As we entered the forests, it was such a shock to our eyes and noses!  The scents of the woodland filled our nostrils, and our beasts grazed their fill as we made camp in the evening.  Owls hooted from high branches and hunted by night, the screams of their prey startling us as we huddled around a small, banked fire.

Both of us were uneasy in this alien territory.  In the desert, we could see all around, and although exposed to the elements, we saw what approached. In the highland forest the thick canopy of trees obscured any ‘visitors’. We moved in dappled sunlight, gloomy after the white light and heat of the desert.  But springs and small streams, fresh water in abundance, were gifts to our senses. We could bathe ourselves and replenish our water skins. Takama found an herb when crushed would produce an acrid smelling lather and we could finally wash our hair. Of course, mine was shorn short, but it was a blessing to be clean.  We washed our robes and laid them upon limbs to dry while we sat in our gauzy white undergowns, munching our dwindling date supply.

My camel Niefa tucked her legs under her body and got comfortable.  The forest floor was hard walking, better were her padded feet on the desert sands.  The climb each day was hard on Niefa, but easier on Takama’s donkey.

“Aicha!”  Takama called out from the bank of the stream.

“Throw me your knife. The donkey has picked up a stone in her hoof.”

I threw my short knife to Takama and sitting with my back against Niefa, watched as she cleaned the stone from the hoof. Niefa chewed her cud, pushing her head into my shoulder. She did this when she wanted me to scratch behind her ears.  She was grumbling and making silly grunts and groans, and if she could reach, she would search my pockets for dried fruits, her favorite treat.

“Niefa!” I yelled, hitting her on the nose, “stop eating my ear!”  Her big fleshly lips were nibbling on me and soon she would be tearing my clothes.  She did this when she felt she was being ignored.

That evening we retrieved our dried clothes and dressed for the cold night. I always wore my turban for the nighttime insects could be kept from my face by the veil. Leaning on Niefa as she groaned softly and was closing her large brown eyes, I was lulled by Takama’s soft singing of a tribal song. I folded my robes around me, and was drifting off to sleep.  The fire was low and we were tired, for we had climbed for hours that day and the going was steep.  We settled on a plateau on a ridge, by the narrow stream, looking down through the trees to a small valley far below.  Darkness was falling early. We were getting used to that for the season was changing.  Fireflies were twinkling like earthbound stars as they settled amongst the foliage.

Suddenly Takama stopped singing, her eyes wide with fear. She pointed over my shoulder, too scared for speech. I turned in the direction of her hand, jumped up and grabbed my sword, Takama running behind. There was a man, with his own sword in hand, staring at us. Almost immediately, other dark robed men appeared from behind trees, calling softly to each other. We could hear the sound of laughter shared amongst them. Then a man walked from behind a tree, closer to us, and addressed us in some alien language.  I had raised my sword menacingly, though we both were defenseless against so many.

“Before the Gods and Goddesses, what are two young girls doing in the mountains?”

He was a very large man, as tall as our Berber people, and we were known for our height. Perhaps he was a Berber, but perhaps also the hated Arab.  With a sinking heart,  I supposed we had fallen into the hands of raiders. The language difference would account for that.

“I am not a girl, I am a man and this is my wife.”  I pitched my voice low, but I was shaking.  All we feared was standing before us. Laughter erupted from the men who now seemed to surround us.

Then I realized I had not placed my veil over my face.  Except for the faint blue coloring across my cheeks and nose, I probably looked like a girl.  My men’s clothing not withstanding, I would appear female to them.

Takama started to moan in fear behind me, I trying to hush her softly.

“Aicha, Aicha”. Fear was making her voice waver.  “We are lost, undone.  Oh, why did you lead us out of our home to this fate? Aiiiiieee!”

Her wail annoyed me, and I wanted to beat her with my fists, but I knew I had more problems before me than the slave behind.  I, too, was afraid, and my voice shook as I addressed the obvious leader before me.

“If you come near us, I will kill you.  Leave us alone, we are poor travelers!”

I raised my sword before me, with both hands holding the grip.  I saw the men all my life practice in camp, mock battles where sometimes blood was drawn.  Being female, I was not allowed to touch weapons, for in our traditions, a woman handling weapons would make them turn in a man’s hand.

This black turbaned man squatted down on his haunches.  His position was one meant to disarm our fears, but I was having none of it.

I did not relax my guard, and spread my feet wide to steady myself.  Takama continued to whimper behind me and plucked at my robe in fear.

The squatting man laid his curved sword over his knees, for no Berber would lay it on the ground unless a death blow made him drop it.

“So you are called “Aicha” by your wife. Now, what a strange name for a man, if you be one.”

He pulled his veil down from his mouth and grinned.  Big white teeth shone like bleached bones even in the dimming evening’s light.

“I can see for myself you were never a man, nor will you ever be one.  Your woman’s figure is too full for that and besides, you have no beard on your face.”

He continued to grin and then his voice turned serious.  “Now tell me, what are your names, and don’t lie to me.  What are you two girls doing in these mountains?

I was silent for a moment, weighing what I would say, and how much to reveal.

“My name is Tin Hinan, and I go on this journey to meet my destiny.”

There was some hooting at my words, and I looked up at the men before us on the ridge with as fierce an expression on my face as I could muster.

“Tin Hinan, huh?” he said with a dismissive shake of his head. “Not too inventive for a woman who wears men’s clothing.  “Nomadic Woman” is not very poetic, and since the Berber women are good poets, one would think you would call yourself something with more music.”

His comment made the men laugh and I again threw a fearsome glance.

“Well, “Tin Hinan” you will be, at least amongst us, but you will join us for we soon return to our own tribe.”

“Are you Arab raiders?” I asked, my voice still wavering.

They all laughed and a few spit on the ground.

The man before us looked over both sides of his shoulders as if this was a great joke and smiled broadly, getting to his feet in one smooth motion.

“No, we aren’t Arabs, but you could say we are raiders. Now, let’s see what your beasts are carrying and if you present a danger to us.”

Of course, this was absurd, but we were in no position to resist.  But my next concern was for Niefa.

With Takama still behind me, hanging close to my back, I moved towards Niefa and she grumbled and groaned and got to her feet.  She was so beautiful in the dim light, like the moon fallen to the earth, so white and shining.  Niefa took that moment to nudge me in the shoulder, throwing me off balance and when a camel pushes, you feel it’s superior strength.

“Niefa, stop it!” I scolded her in a whisper.  She was not helping the situation.

The big man walked up like he had no fear of my sword or my using it, and laid his hand on Niefa’s hump.  He stroked her and scratched her, and Niefa shook, groaning in delight.  She had no loyalty at all.

I looked at Niefa and thought how much of a traitor she was in her affections, and that little moment of my distraction was my undoing.  With the speed of a desert cheetah, the man leaped at me and before I could even think, knocked the sword from my hands.  He was fast and I found myself sprawled on the ground, with him standing over me, scowling.  I believed at that moment my life over, and raised my eyes to him.

“Take my life, but spare my slave.  She is blameless.  I forced her to follow from our tribe. And don’t kill my camel, her name is Niefa and she is young.”

His face softened at my words.  He held out his hand and pulled me to my feet.  I was shaking, still not sure of what was to happen.

“Well, Tin Hinan, you have no reason to fear us.  We are raiders, not murderers of young women.  You, your slave and your camel, will join us on our journey back over the mountain, but you will not wear the man’s veil or clothes with us.  It is an abomination for a woman to do so.  First, you don’t deserve to wear the veil and then, you defile your God-given beauty with man’s clothes. Come, we treat such brave women with respect.  And don’t worry about your camel.  She will have the company of her own kind in our settlement.”

We crossed the mountain and then another one, and within the time of a new risen moon, we came to a mountain ksar.  Here, amongst a strange tribe, my life began anew.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2007, 2009

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2 Responses to ““Tin Hinan”, Chapter 4”

  1. Berowne Says:

    I think this chapter is new to me; I recall seeing 1 through 3 on ERWA a while back. I like the descriptive passages (though the concept of a beautiful camel is a stretch – eye of the beholder, I suppose).

    Like

  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Berowne!

    Yes, this Chapter 4 and onward has not been published on ERWA, or elsewhere I believe. (although lisabet sarai of ERWA read these three chapters a couple of years ago privately and made some helpful comments.)

    It’s also rewritten a bit, so it would be different.

    I have forgotten how much I enjoyed writing this novella. It was two years ago, and then life got ‘heavy’. We give up so much pleasure for trying to be ‘serious’.

    Well…..the concept of a beautiful camel is in the eye of the beholder. I have seen beautiful camels, (though to say I am very familiar with the species would be a stretch…I did do some research about camels, and talked to my Berber friends who gave me a lot of pointers….)and they are very, very sensitive and intelligent creatures. The problem with camels is this: they have a long memory and a longer grudge memory, too.

    IF they are mishandled, brutalized early on, it can ruin their disposition towards humans. IF they are handled humanely, they develop early a trust and a silly friendliness towards humans.

    Just because they are big creatures, and they are, people think they can be shoved around. It’s a mistake with a camel.

    However, they apparently are very acute in their noses: they identify people through smell, not just vision. And IF you have been an abuser of a camel earlier on, they don’t forgive. The spit and they can bite hard.

    I have been bitten by a camel, but that was just a nasty one…a circus camel who probably hated her life. She just ripped my sleeve and shook me.

    I am glad you like the descriptive passages. They are the most fun for me.

    Lady Nyo

    Like

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