Posts Tagged ‘mountains’

“The Zar Tales”, Chapters IV and V.

September 13, 2014
"The Zar Tales", published by, 2010

“The Zar Tales”, published by, 2010


Mr. Mazud Nageesh sat at his desk, pondering the information before him. His wife Leila, attending the Zar ritual at Sheikha Shakira’s house was a further complication.

Ah! Women and their issues certainly screwed a peaceful life! They were essential to men’s comfort, and they continued the bloodlines, but by Allah’s Exalted Name in Paradise…they troubled a peaceful man!

Mr. Nageesh thought through his options. If he ignored the activity of the women, winked at their Zars, his own leadership of the village could be called into question and he could be removed from office. Things could go worse than that for him.

Then, there was his marriage. Leila had been a good if stubborn wife for over thirty years. The man was supposed to rule the house, but any man married that long knew who actually ruled. It was always the women who had real power. At his age he longed for peace and quiet, and if at times he walked on eggshells around the women of his household, well, it was only because he was a wise man.

But Leila was at the zar, and playing her tamboura. It would not be possible to ignore her presence at Sheikha Shakira’s house. Perhaps there was a way around the behavior of the women, but at this time, he didn’t know what it was. The situation was like a sour pickle and however he held his mouth, it would be bitter.

There didn’t seem any way out. Sighing deeply, he resolved to contact the proper authorities in the nearest city for guidance. But he would sit on it for a while, think of some options, and as long as he did something, what was the reasoning to rush? Better to run into a lion’s mouth where religion and women were concerned than mess with the authorities.

Ah! Allah the Merciful! What was the difference between lions, women and religion? You got chewed up all ways!


Leila caught wind of her husband’s plans. It was easy, for thirty years of marriage gave sharp insight into the workings of any married man if you were paying even a little attention. A few questions, a few mumbled responses, a bit of shouting and Leila had her answers. Her stupid husband would meddle in women’s affairs for the sake of his position and now only grief and trouble would follow.

Ah! Allah listen to the women’s plight! Even if you are a Man-God.

Perhaps cousin Shakira was right. Perhaps Goddess Nut was where she should take her concerns. Allah seemed to be doing right well by the men, and the women’s suffering didn’t abate.

Leila went to Shakira and together they sat and drank sweet mint tea, Shakira pouring it high into the pot three times so it would foam properly.

“So, this is what I know, cousin, though it took a bit of work to learn Mazud’s plans.”

Leila sipped her mint tea, her eyes looking at Shakira’s face over the rim of her tiny glass.

Shakira’s concern was obvious, her brows crinkling with concentration. Shakira called upon Nut silently, for she was needed to address all women’s concerns.

Mother Nut? Help us!

“Leila”, began Shakira, addressing her cousin in a lowered voice. “Who has he talked to? Is it anyone local?”

“Ah….from what I could get from him, and what I heard through the wall when he spoke on the phone in his office, he first talked to the old mullah, that ancient fart in the next district, what is his name? Imam Kaleel? Yes, that is his name. He is half blind with age and clinging to life. Allah push him over the cliff.”

They both laughed. Allah could at times be reasonable.

“Then the Imam will go to others for advice.” Shakira sipped her tea, deep in thought.

Yes, there would be trouble, no doubt about it. The zars would be too much of a target for the men to resist. This would have to be addressed, and soon.

“Well, cousin”. Leila’s voice cut into Shakira’s thoughts. “What do you propose? Surely there is something we can do? It is too good a thing to lose to the men. What should we do?”

“Let me think a while, Leila. Let me think.”

Shakira knew how important this was. The zars must continue. But how? The mullahs had supreme power, but the women needed the zars for so many reasons. Things were worked out in the zars. Health was restored by the zars. Her precious Ali had come to her at a zar. Shakira shook her head to clear her thoughts.

Ah! Mother Nut! Come to me at night in my dreams! Come to me with some answers!

The Goddess Nut did speak to Shakira. She came to her in a dream but her answer was not in the form she expected. In her dream, a smiling Nut spread herself over Shakira, caressing her with her sweet breath, dripping the milk of her breasts into Shakira’s mouth, and perfuming her skin with the scent of her hair. Nut rubbed her strong limbs on Shakira’s and made her sound her joy cry in her sleep! Shakira awoke suddenly, thinking of Ali and his lovemaking! Ah! Ali was no where to be found, but Shakira was given a vision by her dream. Still, her holy place felt a faint sweet ache left over from her sleep, and she knew then Nut had visited her. She knew Nut was wise and would lead her in this troubling time. She would turn to Ali and confide in him.

So she did. As soon as she saw him, she decided to throw it all at his feet and implore his advice and help. Even though he was spirit, he still was a man, and men sometimes were wise in these issues. Well, at least she hoped Ali would know what to do.

But first she would make an effort to appeal to him. Ali, like any man, liked the efforts of a woman attempting to please. He may only be spirit, but he still was enough of a man to remember the old ways.

So Shakira made a sweet feast of stuffed dates, and Turkish delight candies, and sugared almonds and candied fruits and golden raisins stuck together in a rich nougat and roasted her best beans for coffee. She washed her long hair and rinsed in rosewater, and dried it in the sun on the roof of her house, where it sparkled like gems in the sunshine. She rubbed almond oil into her heated skin on the roof, and rubbed some into her bush of black hair beneath. She hennaed the palms of her hands with designs and the tops of her feet, and dressed in a white, embroidered cotton gown that was fine enough to show the dark rings of her nipples beneath. But just for good measure, she also applied the brick red henna to her nipples first to make sure that they looked like two eyes looking seductively out at Ali from beneath the thin lawn fabric. Ah! If this didn’t make his ney rise from his loins, then all the art in Persia was dead, along with its manhood!


Ali sat on the low bed, in his usual position, hovering a few inches from the Turkish rug. He smoked his hookah, and the apple- dried tobacco floated out through the piping. Since Ali was mostly spirit, it circled in his lungs, visible to the eyes of Shakira. When Ali was pleased or aroused, he shimmered with a golden gleam, and Shakira did not fail to notice his interest. Ali never touched the food offered him, for he did not live on such substance of mortals. But his eyes widened when he saw Shakira standing before him, and she saw that he was pleased. Her nipples hardened and ached and seem to stretch their now reddened buds towards him sitting before her.

“Ya Habibi”, began Shakira, settling herself on a mound of pillows next to Ali. “There is talk amongst our mayor and men about the women’s zars. I have heard the old Iman Kaleel has been consulted by Mayor Nageesh.”

Shakira took a bite of a stuffed date, and looked at Ali siting next to her. Ah! He was handsome this morning, with his robes sparkling in gold dust and the sweet smell of the tobacco surrounding his head like a vaporous crown.

Ali continued to puff on his hookah, his face dissolving in the smoke. He did not look at Shakira, but with eyes half closed, seemed lost in his own thoughts. He did not immediately answer her, but continued to pull languidly on his pipe.

“It is more than just Imam Kaleel who has knowledge of what you women do.” Ali blew out a long plume of smoke.

“News has rolled like a stone from a hill down to the valley. Now the mullahs in the district know what goes on here, for your Mayor Nageesh is out to protect his good name.”

Shakira was surprised, but then again, Ali was spirit and would be able to gather information unseen. That was a definite advantage over mortals. He didn’t stand with his ear to the wall like Leila. She also knew Ali would not share how he obtained this knowledge. He was a spirit of mystery, after all.

And a man.


Shakira’s voice was sweet as mashed dates and cut through Ali’s smoke seductively.

“What do you think I should do? What should we women do to protect ourselves?”

Shakira could see a smile forming on Ali’s lips, even through the smoke. His smile broadened, but still he did not look at her.

“Ah, women! They do not change much through the centuries. They dig holes in the ground and complain when they fall in.”

He blew out a long stream of smoke, obscuring his face completely. Shakira could sense his mirth, for his spirit-body vibrated with his silent laughter.

“You should have asked my advice before you held your zars and I would have told you my opinion.”

Shakira’s mood changed from cajoling to anger.

Just like a man! Hah! He doesn’t remember the role his own zar played in his past. I could have left him in stupid Aya’s womb and he would still be unhappy.

Demon Ali must have sensed her thoughts for he changed his position slightly, and laid down the hose from the hookah.

“Look, Shakira. You have involved yourself and the others in a dangerous thing. The mullahs have cracked down all over the country on zars. This you well knew. Your rebellion against the men has been too open. Had you been smarter, you would not be so worried now.”

Shakira exploded.

“Alright, Mighty Zar! I have played the foolish woman and now you have your satisfaction! Your wisdom is more than my own, though I am called Sheikha. What can I do to make you help me?

“Ah! You want my help? All you had to do is ask.” Ali the Demon vibrated with laughter.

“I am asking, Ali, I am begging for your help. I am lost which way to go. I am lost.”

Now Ali the Demon turned to look at Shakira propped up on the rich colored cushions beneath him. His eyes softened and he folded his arms across his chest and golden stardust rose from his movements. His voice was serious but still a hint of laughter was there as he spoke in low tones to this woman.

“You and the others do nothing. Tell them to be obedient wives to their husbands. Tell them to act sweetly and talk in pleasing, melodious tones and not to challenge them. Tell them to act as white doves and bring honor to their house. I will do the rest.”

Shakira, being an intelligent and curious woman, could not resist. “What Ali, do you plan on doing?” As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized her mistake.

Ali the Demon’s eyes grew dark, and his face scowled with thunder. Shakira had never seen him in such a state, and shrunk back on her pillows. Her heart thumped as if she had seen a horrible jinn in the black of night, and sweat rose on her skin in fright.

Ali saw her fear, could smell it with his sharpened senses, and curbed his anger as well as he could.

“Woman, it is enough for you to know I will fix what you have broken. It is not for you to question what I do. I am not your husband, but you apply the same advice here as you tell the other women. Now, I desire soft music and the perfume of your body in my nostrils and my ney within your woman’s bush. I will play the flute and you will dance for me. But you take off that gown. I prefer to see your skin glisten with your almond oil, and to see your flesh roll in the morning light. This is what you will do for me and I will take care of your mess. But ask me not again my plans. You would not want to know. Have faith in your beloved.”

Ah! Shakira knew a strong and determined man when she heard one. And since she had no power against the mullahs, she was glad to leave it to Ali. There are times when a man is a necessity in life, and this was a prime example. He might be spirit, but there was enough man in that spirit to hide behind.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2009-2014. “The Zar Tales” published by, 2009

“Tin Hinan”, Chapter 7, Part 2

October 1, 2009
Falconry with Goldens (Berguts), but in China. Huge Goldens.

Falconry with Goldens (Berguts), but in China. Huge Goldens.

The sun had just begun to mount the sky when ten men collected in the courtyard. Horses shook their bridles and pranced, while the smoke of breaths, beasts and men, rose in the morning chill.  The men had their hunting birds on their wrists or in cages made of thin branches.

I was dressed in my woolen robes, with good, stout leather sandals and knitted socks and except for my hands, I was warm enough.  Standing apart from the men, as was only proper, I wondered where Immel was.

I watched the birds sitting quietly on thick carpet- covered wrists, mostly falcons and a few larger hawks amongst them. They all had tiny metal bells around their ankles.

I went to sit down and await Immel.  He appeared on his large horse holding the reins of a smaller mare.  My eyes widened with surprise when I saw what was on the back of that mare.  It was the biggest eagle I had ever seen!  A Golden, but much bigger than I could have imagined.  Immel and another mounted man took a long tree limb and stretching it between them, perched the eagle upon it, tying the bird securely to the limb with thick thongs.   He motioned for me to come and mount the smaller horse, and swung me up.  We left the ksar and wound around a mountain trail, higher up on the mountain than I had ever gone.  They were going after mountain dove and pigeon, and by the size of the eagle, probably bigger game.

Immel gestured for me to fall behind his horse and there I had a chance to observe this eagle.  Most of the hawks and falcons had their eyes sewn shut with strong thread passed through the top and lower lids. They rode quietly on the wrist. This Golden rode like a king,  his head unhooded, nor did Immel blind him with the threads.  He looked from side to side as he occasionally called out with a barking laugh.   I could tell Immel was proud of his eagle, and as eager as the bird to have him flown. He was secured with braided thongs, almost as thick as a woman’s arm, and the bells around his scaled ankles were large silver ones of different tones. I could tell, for he raised his feet constantly and shook them.  He was quite a handful, and only a man the size of Immel could have commanded him.

We came through the forest, as it rounded up the mountain and came to a large plateau. The men carefully got off their horses with their birds. One hawk’s eyes were unstitched, and launched into the air.

“Hip-hip-hip-hip!”  The man’s voice was high pitched and excited.  This was the call for the bird to cast out into the sky, looking for prey on the ground.  The eyesight of a hawk can see up to a mile away, and find a rabbit hiding in the grasses. After a while, the man called him back, twirling his lure with a rabbit head on the end of it.  It must have been a young bird, newly trained but rebellious, for it took time to get his bird to earth.  Then the stubborn bird mantled over to within five camels’ distance, and the man had to chase the young bird over the ground.  The laughter of the men was tolerated, but I had seen men kill their hawks in a rage.

Next a peregrine’s thread was pulled from her eyes and she was sent aloft from the wrist of her master.  There is nothing so beautiful as a falcon soaring on the thermals far above in the heavens, and then to see her fold her wings and drop through the air. We saw her disappear above us, just a black speck in the blue. Then hurling to the earth, a sudden burst of feathers told us she had killed a bird on the wing.

This was all sport, for there was little expectation the hunting that day would bring food for the tribe at home.  It was the way men enjoyed themselves, with their hawks, kinfolk and out of the sight of women.

Each falcon or hawk was launched and tried in the air.  Each came back except one.  It was a black mark on the man who lost his hawk to the heavens.  Perhaps a child had thrown a stone at the bird while he was tied to his perch outside the door.  For whatever reason, this hawk decided that he could hunt for himself.  The trick was to starve them enough and to only feed them from the wrist.  If they got a sense they could hunt for themselves, they were lost to human commands and would reverted to the wild.

When all of the birds had flown, Immel dismounted and placed his bird on his forearm.   The eagle barked in excitement and lifting each foot in turn, rang his bells.  Immel talked softly to it and then with a strong upward thrust, threw him into the air.

Ah! His wings were as long as a camel was tall!  He flapped strongly until he had obtained the heavens and soared above us, circling and barking like a malevolent jinn. He was so vast when he soared low over us he cast a shadow and spooked the horses.

“Immel, my brother! This time your eagle might not come back!”

This made the others laugh and Immel shrug his shoulders.  “What can I do? Sigi has a mind of his own.  I can only implore the Gods he remembers where he is fed.”

I was still watching the sky, looking at the Golden circling higher on the thermals.  He was such a large bird he was easy to watch, as he gave a flap to lift himself as he floated effortlessly over the mountain.

“You have never seen a Bergut before?”  Immel’s voice cut into my scanning the heavens.

“I have never seen a such a bird!”  I glanced up at him, shading my eyes with my hand.

“I bought Sigi from an Arab as a fledgling.  He is the largest of the Golden Eagles.  I am told by this trader they are used in pairs with metal sheaths on their talons to hunt tigers.”

I started to laugh, until I saw his face.  He was serious, but considering the size of his eagle, perhaps it was possible.

“What game has he brought down?”

“The occasional lamb or goat from someone’s flock.”  He smiled and shrugged.  “Sigi has cost me for his appetite.”

I laughed.  Sigi could cause some trouble between tribes.  Wolves did harm, too, when they could.

“Of course, he has paid me back with the wolves he has killed. The skins make a nice barter.”

Wolves! A bird, even a bird as large as Sigi, killing wolves!  That was something to think about.

Today though, when Sigi reappeared over the mountain, Immel called his return cry and the eagle looked down at the rabbit offered on Immel’s wrist.  The hunting was short and Sigi must have been hungry, for he flew down and landed at a distance.  Immel whistled to him and twirled his lure, enticing the eagle closer.  The horses didn’t like this huge bird near them, and shied and snorted in fear.

Immel walked out to where he had thrown the rabbit to Sigi, and found him mantling over the prey.  Sigi knew the game and started to take off again, but Immel had strung long leather braids on his two legs, and with a dive to the ground, grabbed them before the eagle could regain his flight. For a matter of moments it was not clear who would win, as Immel fought to keep the eagle on the ground.  Sigi was strong enough to pull Immel over and only when he sat up, was Immel able to wrestle the bird closer.  Sigi barked and hissed and finally Immel pulled him in.  Picking him up, stuffed under his arm and holding his leathers firmly, Immel brought Sigi back to the men.  There was general laughter and comments aplenty about Immel’s sense in having such a bird, but Immel was used to this behavior, both from the bird and the men.

That was my introduction to Sigi and I was allowed to accompany Immel and the others again. I was told that the value of Sigi would be two camels, but I knew Immel would never sell him for a hundred.  Soon, I had my own falcon, a little sakir who was fast and brought down doves for the pot. It was a gift from Immel and she started our friendship.  Most women would want silver or a sweet oil from a man.  I got a bird.

Jane Kohut-Birdtells
Copyrighted, 2007, 2009

Life and great expectations….and a poem.

May 5, 2009

pict01771My husband Fred has been in NYC for 5 days and I have felt his absence sharply.  He travels too much for his company at times, but we have adjusted because it’s not ALL the time.  I know of one fellow who is off around the world every month.   I would go crazy because Fred and I have been married for so long now, and we are closer than most couples.  Perhaps because we married in middle age and came from bad marriages before, but we are close.   It’s funny, when he leaves on a trip, I have all these plans that I THINK I want to do, around the house, with friends, but after the second day, I am looking for his presence.  I am listening for sounds in this house of him…this house he rebuilt, originally a rather small 1880’s farmhouse in what was once, a very long time ago….a rural area 3 miles south of Atlanta.  Every room now, and there are 12 of them…has his handprint, in the rebuilding of walls, ceilings, addition of a whole wing and a new and large kitchen.  Of course, most of it is not finished…there are baseboards missing, and drywall still to be finished, trim work, but he did it all. This house is a monument to his incredible creativity and ability.   And I don’t care if it is ‘ ever finished. It’s a work in progress and as long as we have something to finish, we entertain ourselves with plans and wishlists.

I don’t sleep well without his lump in the bed next to me.  It’s been 5 days of interrupted sleep.  The disruption of the familiar.  I don’t cook or eat in health when he’s gone:  another disruption.

We talk on the phone, but he’s on the showroom floor all the time.  They love him, and he’s been doing some of the same jobs….heading the crews all over the country for years.  At least he’s eating well, and expensively, because the clients eat constantly, throw dinners for him and the other clients.  He doesn’t sleep well, because my lump isn’t in the bed next to him.

He comes home tonight and I have to clean up my act.  The house is fine, it’s the food I have been eating for 5 days.  Ice cream cones, salami sandwiches, brie, and pink lemonade.

Not a great diet.  It’s usually lots of fruit and cereal for breakfast,  eggs from our chickens, and roast chicken (not from our hens),  lots of veggies for dinner.  Sometimes, fresh loaves of homemade bread.

We are planning on building another house, this time in the NC mountains.  His parents died a few years ago, and left us 12 acres up in the mountains. They came from Miami and never saw it but once.

It’s totally dark up there, no street lights…no electricity at all.  The nearest neighbor is about 1/2 mile away, and we will have to run electric poles up the mountain.  It’s scary up there too, because there are lots of deer, ticks and sometimes what the locals call ‘puma’.  But every Fourth of July, we pack up the dogs and kid and go up there and camp for a few days.  This year will be special because we finally got the survey done and we know exactly the boundaries of our acreage.  Or we at least have the paperwork.  And it’s a lot of fun and argument to plan a house up there.  The mountain we are on is beautiful except we have to go very high and cut down a lot of trees to even get sun.  I have to have light.

There is an old house on our property we have been taking some of the wider planks from for years.  It’s falling down, but the construction is fascinating.  It’s all tongue and groove, inside and out, and there is enough wood to build another house.  We have found that the widest planks, all heart pine, about 14-16 inches makes great tables, boxes, etc.  You don’t do any stain, because  this wood just needs a coat of poly and these incredible colors emerge out of the wood.

We will go up there this July, for the blackberries are ripe then, and we come home with everything we haven’t eaten.  It’s rough camping when we go, latrine, washing in a very cold stream (unless I heat pots of water on a fire…and line up the family for baths) tracking deer, playing the fiddle in the middle of the falling darkness around a campfire, hearing the errie and scary screams of these mythological puma, calling the dogs back from running the deer,  picking off ticks, and eating….cooking and eating seem endless in the mountains.  Perhaps it’s the fresh air, but after setting up camp, there is little to do except that.  This year we go up with chain saws and clear something for a house.

And about that house…I want a small house, one story, or perhaps a barn, with lofts, but we will be rather elderly when we finally actualize this house.  I want something that doesn’t have tons of windows to wash and something with an open plan. I want  woodstoves and quiet.  I will get plenty of that because there aren’t neighbors near by, but the one that is raises collies.  So we will have, hopefully, a pick of my favorite breed.

Along with the ticks.

Lady Nyo


“You’re all I have”

Heard in the dark

Heart almost stopping

In an inattentive breast.

I dare not look at him

Too bald a sentiment

And too true to bear

A light, comforting answer.

What would occasion such words,

Such a piteous sentiment?

When one has lived

Within another’s hours, days, years,

The fabric of this making

Can be forgotten.

The warp and weave, the very thread

That appears as if out of air

(and it does)

becomes substantial,

it covers and clothes more than the body

and the life blood of sentiment,


Becomes the river within, unending,

Even transcending the pulse of life.

“You’re all I have,”

A whispered refrain

That echoes in the heart

And burrows deep.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009

“Tin Hinan” Chapter 5

January 10, 2009


Our journey over that mountain tried our spirits and strength. We were amongst about thirty men, led by the large man called Immel Uzmir. They were mountain Berbers, and that accounted for the difference in language. Their voices had a flat sound, not the pleasant, musical tone of our desert tribes. Perhaps the fact their lives were so violent made for the difference in speech.

Takama and I got used to their brusque ways, they were men after all. Without the soothing nature of women around, what could one expect? Men left to their own devices revert to savages, more like wild beasts than human. These men were a rough bunch, and if it weren’t for the respect they held for Immel Uzmir, Takama and I would have been plunder.

They must have come from a successful raid somewhere in the desert, for their mules and pack horses were loaded with bags of spices and bales of cloth woven and dyed with expensive dyes.

“Look at the colors, Aicha”, said Takama in wonder. We could see the difference for some of these cloths were even woven with gold thread.

“They must have robbed a very rich merchant”, I said in a whisper. Our women of the tribe did various forms of embroidery, but nothing like the sumptuousness of these pieces.

Caravans crossing from the east are loaded with spices, gold and gold dust, cloths, and precious salt, which they trade further south of the desert for slaves. Since there were no slaves amongst them, we supposed they had raided some rich merchant’s caravan before it had crossed into the southern reaches of the desert. Slave trade was very common, and women and their children were sold off to different tribes and taken afar from the lives they knew.

We were the only women amongst these raiders.

Takama and I were treated well enough, and given warm blankets and food from their fires. We knew our safety was still in question, for we were women amongst men.
Each night, when we wrapped ourselves in the blankets and settled ourselves against Niefa, for Immel Uzmir allowed me to keep her. A guard was set near us. We never were sure if it was because Immel Uzmir thought we might try to escape, or if a man would force himself upon us. We slept safely enough, though the weather was colder and the air thinner the higher we climbed.

One night, after the evening meal of snared rabbits, Immel Uzmir came and sat near me, a gourd of camel’s milk in his hand.

“You eat little food, Tin Hinan. Is our tribes cooking that bad to your mouth?” He was smiling and held out the milk to me.

I bowed my head in thanks. Camel’s milk was like mother’s milk to me, and I had not had the taste of it since I had left my tribe now so long ago. Drinking deeply, I could have cried for it reminded me of all I had thrown away.

In truth, my liver was nervous, and I was uneasy. It is not peaceful to be amongst men without the presence of women. Many times I caught the eyes of a man looking at me with that particular hunger. I adopted a veil to keep the cold from my face, but also to keep obscured from curious glances.

“Your food fills the belly, but could use some salt. All in all, women cook better than men. But I imagine you will be home soon and the women of your tribe will rejoice with a feast.”

Immel Uzmir laughed softly and shook his head. “You are of the age, Tin Hinan, to be married. Why are you not so?”

I can be stubborn and when I am, I retreat into silence. It would take a donkey pulling hard to open my mouth and pry out my voice. These many weeks alone, with only the company of Takama, had taken its toll on my solitude and nature. I was, if the truth be known, lonely and miserable. Perhaps this trek up the mountain had taken more than my strength. I was tired and out of my element. The mountains were beautiful, but this relentless climb upwards challenged more than my stamina. I was a desert woman, and out of my element. I felt as alien as if a star had dropped to earth and could not fly back to the heavens.

I was silent with my thoughts. What should I tell him? His name, Immel Uzmir, meant ‘powerful, constant one’ and he certainly had the respect of these men. To be able to control a score and a half again of Berber men meant that he was a powerful man in his tribe. The Goddesses had been silent to my demands and I had little else for comfort. I must be grateful.

Sighing, and casting my eyes on the ground, I spoke in a low voice. Low, not because I was worried that others would hear my tale, but because I was almost overcome with sorrow. My heart and liver ached and our people say that it is better to let out demons than to trap them inward where they multiply day after day.

“I was to be married. There is not much to tell. My intended broke the contract and the wedding gifts were returned to my parent’s tent. We heard then he had married and left his tribe.”

I kept my eyes on the ground, feeling shame before this stranger. His own voice was low and I struggled not to let foolish woman’s tears fall down my cheeks.

“Ah, Tin Hinan. You blame yourself for a man’s inconstancy? He knew what he risked in doing so. He would not be able to do what he wanted if he was not backed by his parent’s agreement. You are comely and brave for a woman. There is no need to feel shame. Did your tribe prepare to war with his?”

I looked up at him, glancing quickly into his eyes.

“Our tribe is small. If we did, over this broken promise, many of my kin would be killed. Hasim’s tribe was much stronger.”

In speaking his name, I could not hold back the tears. They fell down my cheeks, though I tried to pull my veil across my face to hide. Immel Uzmir reached out from where he was sitting and raised my face with his hand. He looked closely at me, his eyes searching. I pulled my head back with a grimace.

“So, you cut off your hair and took your slave and went into the desert? Did you think of the risks? Foolish girl, you could have easily died out there, or be taken prisoner by Arabs.”

“Hah! Instead I lived to be taken by Berbers, my own tribemen! What difference has it meant? I am still a prisoner, probably a slave now like Takama.”

My voice was bitter and my eyes flashed through my tears.

Immel Uzmir had his own temper.

“Are you bound like a slave? Do we starve you? Are you made to bear burdens like the pack beasts? Ungrateful girl, if we left you in the mountains, you would be bones by now. There are black bears and wolves up here and you and your slave would not have survived more than a few nights.”

My eyes grew wide. Bears and wolves are not a problem in the desert. Poisonous snakes and scorpions are.

“What do you plan to do with us when you get home? Are we to be slaves to your tribe?”

He shifted his weight and looked around at a noise from the men. “ I don’t know what your fate will be, the Gods are silent on that score.”

He scowled at me, trying to scare me, and he was succeeding.

“ It’s not my decision. When we get to our tribe I will turn you over to our elders and they will decide what to do with you. We are Berbers, not monsters, we do not harm women. They usually find a place at our fire, and sometimes a husband. Your luck could change.” He tossed me a smile and a wink and rose to his feet.

Standing over me, with my head craned back looking at him, he was an impressive man. He was named correctly, and his appearance seemed to bear it out. I was still prisoner, but it could have been worse.

Our travel across the mountain became a constant journey, for we were trying to avoid the start of the snow season. Already the nights were freezing, and frost made the ground stiff and brittle at dawn. We slept only a few hours and rose before the sun and still we climbed upward. We reached the top, walked across a plateau and started to descend, the snow already falling. Immel Uzmir pushed the men and beasts as much as he could. To be stranded in a blizzard, even an early one, could mean death. We did not stop to cook or make fires, and ate what could be eaten raw, mostly dried dates and camel milk. It was another rise of a moon before we came in sight of a valley, and on the other side of that was the settlement of where Immel Urzim and his men lived.

I was glad to leave that mountain, and so was Niefa. She had a hard time with her feet on that mountain, for camels get sore pads with the rocks and stones. She was born in the desert and the soft sands were hot but did not cut her pads like the mountain terrain. On the descent, she talked and bellowed, and I realized that even at this distance, she could smell other camels in the valley below us. She was young, and was coming into heat. A camel in estrus has her mind on only one thing. She was becoming a handful, and her gait suffered from the descent. Immel Uzmir saw that she was giving me trouble, and tied her behind another bigger camel to make her slow down. He placed me behind him on his large horse, and I was forced to hold on to him as we hit rock slides and uneven terrain.

We are a clean people, and ablutions are important to our culture, but the smell of a man so close was new to me. Given the fact that he had not bathed in the mountains, the smell of male sweat and robes that had not seen a good washing was a bit ripe to my nose. Perhaps I smelled the same to him, but men seem to tolerate these things better than women.

We came out of the forest and into a large valley. His settlement was across the wide valley and clinging to another mountain range. We would make camp in the valley to give the pack animals, horses and camels a good feeding on the grasses. That evening, before the sun dipped completely under the horizon, I looked over to the next mountain where he pointed out his tribe’s ksar. I had never seen one before and was curious. My tribe was from the desert. We lived in large tents, woven from the hair of camels. The trees, oaks, twisted olives and walnut groves obscured the actual buildings, but the purple cast of the mountains before us and long shadows thrown upon the valley was beautiful to eyes that up to now, had only seen sand and hot sun.

That night, Takama and I walked down from the men to a stream where we tried to bathe ourselves, but of course we did not strip off our clothing. The water was cold, at least we were refreshed, exchanging our robes for the last of clean clothes. I was nervous what the next day would bring, for we would be able to cross the wide valley and appear in the mountain village before sundown. I had no idea of how we would be received, but we both knew our lives now were not our own. We were at the mercy of a mountain tribe, and though we spoke the same tongue, we were strangers in a very strange land.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2007, 2009

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