Revision to “The Zar Tale”

Well, writing is re-writing to me…and especially now.  I’m working my way through this next book…”The Zar Tales”….a collection of stories and a novella, so I do a lot of this stuff above.

I posted a chapter recently, but I am amending it now.  It’s longer…and I’ve cut off the top…enough so I am playing around with what it seems now without it.  Sometimes that’s good to do.  Cut and paste and delete words….lots of words.  Tighten up.

Sorry for the weird formatting.  I transposed it from an email to a friend and this is the way it treats me!

Lady Nyo

Book II, Chapter 1 “The Zar Tale”

Ali was sitting on the bench early one evening when the village men gathered
outside the baker’s shop. They lit the hookah and passed the hoses around.
He was enjoying the mixture of babble and smoke rising like spirits
above their heads.  Eyes half closed against the blue haze circling his head, he basked
in the fading sunlight.

There was a lot more energy needed to be a mortal, Ali thought.  Being a
Zar was easier. That Shakira was insatiable.  Now she would grab his hand
and lead him to bed, and she would stay there, full of demands and little
shame for a woman!  On top of that, she was feeding him too much and he was
getting heavier.  She told him he needed the weight, but he thought she just
was in love.  Ah! Women acted differently in love.

This was something he had forgotten over the past thousand years.  He was
adjusting to a diet of rich foods he had not tasted before.  The foods of
his Berber clan were simpler.  The woman was making flaky walnut and honey
pastries and stuffing dates with sugared almonds and tempting him with
candied ginger, orange and lemon peel.  Also, wheat salads with golden
raisins and garlic and herbs from her garden.

And he was eating too much meat.  This goat and lamb was not stringy, as he
remembered in the desert, but stuffed with lard and fat and served with
stewed apples and apricots and more delightful than even her sweetbreads.
Ah, he was going to get fat and slow!  But he had a thousand years of
nothing on his stomach, and Shakira was sure to kill him with all these rich
dishes!  Or, he supposed, her demands in bed.  One or the other was going to
shorten his life.

So, the smoke and silence this evening was a restful time for Ali.

But it wouldn’t last long.  The murmur of men made him open his eyes.
Walking towards them was Emir and Hasan.  Ah! Two old Zar friends now as
flesh and blood– thanks to mullah kabobs!

Hasan wore the indigo blue turban. There was always a kinship between them,
and if nothing but their hooked noses and the colors of their robes and
turbans showed this, well it was enough.  Emir was Persian; his robes were
white and black.  Ali stood and embraced both men, and kissed each on both
cheeks as was custom.  He introduced Hasan as a kinsman from a village in
the mountains and Emir as an old friend.  How old, Ali didn’t reveal, but
they had been Zars together for many centuries.  Ali called for more of the
strong Turkish coffee and the baker came out with the tiny cups and the long
ladled copper coffee pots.  The village men, as in all regions of Turkey,
prided themselves in their hospitality, and welcomed the two strangers.
Besides, they might bring gossip or news and that was better than reading
weeks- old newspapers dealing with city issues and rarely those from the
mountains.

Hasan and Emir were passed the piping of the hookah. They filled their lungs
with the sweet scent of dried apple tobacco.  After a while, Ali mentioned
Emir was a poet, and a wonderfully inventive one at that!  Emir beamed with
pride and delight and looked at Ali, a broad smile wreathing his sun
darkened face.

“Ah!  My Brother Ali here is a fine poet in his own right!  I cannot hold a
candle with my poor verse!  I have heard Brother Ali expound at length and
his verse is prodigious!  The angels in heaven get dizzy with the beauty of
his lyrics. They spiral almost to the ground and Allah sucks them back up
with his breath!  Ah! The Great Rumi would have treasured the verse of
Brother Ali had he but heard it!”

Ali laughed to himself.  Emir knew well Ali had been a student of the great
Rumi almost a thousand years ago.  It was not in his mortal flesh he sat as
Rumi’s student, but a time when he was condemned as a Zar,  without purpose
or a woman to possess.

When Ali was a young Berber chieftain, and still with mortal connections to
this earth, he was taken by the beauty of verse and was a very good Berber
poet.  This was unusual for his region, for the women of the tribes were
known to be the poets and the literate ones.  But Ali was a favorite amongst
the women, and they loved to have him around as a young boy, before he was
of age where he would not be welcome company with the women.  His dark eyes
shone hearing the verses the women chanted while washing at the river. He
learned how they took from the beauty of nature and the joys, sadness of
their lives and wove them into carpets of verse.  The knots and threads of
these beautiful verse-carpets were full of color and the softness of dreams,
not sheep wool.

He learned to stroke the phrases, to rise to the lushness of the Berber
language.   When he was older, he would sit on his horse in the desert and
roam the dunes until he lost himself in lyrics and sand.  His horse knew the
way home, and Ali could compose his poetry away from the chatter of wives
and children, growls of camels, the bleating of goats and the general noise
of the camp.

Ali had a hunting hawk, as had most of the Berber men, and he would put his
beautiful girl on the leather pad at his wrist, gently pull off the hood and
launch her into the desert sky.  She would wheel and soar high and turn into
the sun, and Ali would lose sight of her.  But before he did, he would
compose verses in praise of his bird.  Her wings, her grace, her sharp eyes
that saw from high on the wind.  She would fold her wings and plunge like a
daytime falling star, and stretch out her claws.  Make short work of desert
rats.

She was fast as the sandstorms that carried the wind up to the foot of the
mountains, and a fierce as any warrior on his steed.  Her coat sparkled with
a million colors, like a piece of bronze mirror, or like pearls glistening
fresh from the sea.

Ali could never stop praising his hawks.  They lifted him into the wilds of
their heaven and left his human travail behind.  Ah, his birds made his soul
soar!

Ali was as proud of his hawks as he was of his poetry. His father and most
of his kinsmen would sew shut their bird’s eyes shut and release the strong
thread before they launched them. But Ali saw many hawks blinded this way,
and what good is a blind hunting hawk?  So he patiently molded hoods of new
lambskin, sewed and decorated them with dyed feathers.

Hasan’s voice cut into his thoughts, and Ali shook his head to clear.  He
hadn’t thought about the hawks in many years, centuries actually.  Now, with
his feet again mortal, he could capture and train young tercels and hunt
again like his ancestors.  This promise brought tears to his eyes, and
opening them, saw the compassionate gazes of both Hasan and Emir.  They had
suffered as much as Ali, and now, thanks to the good mullahs, they had their
chances at life again.

“Give us a verse, Brother Ali!” said Emir, with a broad smile.

The men of the village perked up with his words, for there was nothing that
men loved more than the soft, lulling words of a poet.

Unless it was the soft moving hands of a woman.

The men had hard lives in the mountains, tilling the stony earth for their
grain crops, but they made time for any poet.  It was music to their ears
without instrumentation.  It was the fine music of human voice and colorful
words.  It gave precious beauty to their routine lives.

Ali shook his head, and said for Emir to give them a poem, but Emir insisted
Ali give them a verse of his own making.

“Ah! You ask the impossible, my dear brother.  It has been long since I
thought of any verse. Life had glued shut those pages of inspiration.”

Ali smiled to himself and took up one of the mouthpieces of the hookah,
sucking in a long plume of smoke smelling of apple.

“If marriage next month to the Sheilkha Shakira doesn’t open those pages, my
friends, then all the poets of Persia have lived for naught!”

This from one of the men in the village made them all laugh.  They were
curious how this stranger had been able to attract the affections of their
desirable Sheikha. But their eyes, even the eyes of men, could tell he was
handsome enough to attract a woman’s gaze.

Better he marry the Sheikha now.  The women would have no claim on him then.

Ali stared at Emir through half opened eyes.  They spoke volumes, were
masked by the heavy smoke he expelled from his lungs.  Ah, brother Emir
would push him, but perhaps he could think of something.  Surely the men
would want a love sonnet or a verse of the beauty of mortal life.  Make that
Paradise, for these men were jaded by their mortality.  It was new to Ali,
Emir and Hasan, and precious and confounding to them daily.  After being a
Zar for centuries, feet on the earth were heavy but strangely comforting.

*”All the carpets of Persia cannot match the softness of her hands

The roses of the Sultan’s garden have not the bloom of her cheeks

The trees blown by a gentle wind have not the sway of her delicate gait

And my heart travels with speed to lie at her feet.

Ah! She steps on my heart, invisible beneath her flowery foot,

And trots upon my senses, scrambling them like eggs for the breakfast.”*

At this last line, the men guffawed.  Even they, in their isolated village,
could discern good verse from bad. Ali was having his fun with them.

“I warned you I had nothing to say,” he said with a bemused look on his
face.

“Ah, Friend Ali!” said one of the men loudly.  “If you think you have
nothing to say now, marriage will shut up your mouth then.”

The others laughed, for the truth of the matter was so.  Marriage changed
both men and women.  It made one side more quarrelsome and the men more
silent and fearful of the wrath of the other.  Ah! Men could not win in this
battle.

Ali had been married, with a number of wives.  His eyes glazed over as he
blew out more smoke from the hookah.  The first one was Lela, when he was 20
years old.  She was young and so shy, she wouldn’t look him in the eyes for
two months after the wedding.  She cried most of the first month.  Ali was
aware she missed her family, but a marriage is a marriage and it must be
endured.  He would take his horse and his hawk and ride out and hunt.  Only
when Lela had her first child, luckily for her a boy, did she perk up.  She
became right bossy, too.  The older men would laugh when Ali made a hasty
retreat from their tent, usually followed with a string of invective from
his young wife, and sometimes wooden stirring spoons and knives.  Ah! This
was not a good situation, and his father decided Ali had suffered enough and
gave him another wife. Sela was a cousin of Lela and at first; she was as
shy as Lela.  But she soon overcame that and became a favorite wife.  There
were two more, but one died in childbirth.  All in all, Ali had four sons
and four daughters. Sela was killed in the arms of Ali, when Ali was
murdered making love to her.  Their second child died with them, for Sela
was very pregnant.

“Ah, my wife will be angry if I don’t return home soon.”

The words of one of the men cut into Ali’s thoughts.   The sun was setting,
and the sky was red from its fading luster.

“Soon, my friend”, answered another, putting his hand on the shoulder of Ali
in a compassionate gesture.   “You will be yoked like the oxen in the fields
to our Shakira and you too will watch the hours like the rest of us, knowing
they are linked to the tempers of women.  Ah Allah! You had many wives, but
we have just one each, and our lives are made miserable still!”

The laughter went around the benches where they sat in the fading sunlight.
Men all over had the same issues, and now that Ali and the others were
mortal again, they faced their own temperamental women.  Perhaps it was
easier before as Zars, for they could just float out of earshot of women and
gather in the forests in the mountains to share the hookah with other Zars.
But the good outweighed the bad, for the cooking of the women went a long
way in filling appetites that had been lost for centuries.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyright, 2009

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