Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Thomas Berger's work  You think that you don't know  Thomas Berger's  works,  but in fact you do,  he just don't know it.   Here is a short look at this amazing writer.

Iran: There is No Thrill, Like Overkill (2006)

George Bush has begun sabre rattling towards Iran. Sy Hersh has reported that the planning and logistics for an attack on Iran are advanced enough to occur at any time. There is also the question of where Iran is at producing a deterant. These, plus the same macro-economic problems which made an attack on Iraq necessary in 2003, are pushing America towards a confrontation with Iran over its atomic program. It is not, yet, at the irrevocable point. Part of what is going on is precisely what was mentioned before - sabre rattling to get pundit attention off of spygate, rising gas prices and other bleeding ulcers in the belly of Bush.
However, the point of no return is out there in the next six month, and it will be crossed, not with great fanfare, but, like the equator on a sailing ship, with a quiet notation in a log book.
A Short Primer on Deterrence
Deterrence is a simple concept: provoke in the enemy the fear of attacking. To deter is to create a credible perception in the mind of the opposite side, that attacking is more costly than not attacking, and to do so with a force that makes the opponent blot out the option in their own minds. Once this blind spot is created, then  other forces can work on the enemy to produce a favorable outcome. When attack becomes unthinkable, other options, no matter how unpalatable, become acceptable.
At the apex of the chain of deterrence are three powerful weapons: economic deterrence, where the cessation of economic intercourse would produce unthinkable damage, military deterrence, where deployable forces project sufficient power to make contrary actions painful enough to avoid, and strategic deterrence, which means weapons of mass destruction, and the survivable means to deliver them. Deterrence works until it does not. When an actor breaks through deterrent forces, and sees the potential for counter attack as discountable, it will act with an immediacy and a ferocity that is designed to shock the other side into submission. Economic and military deterrence have collapsed from time to time, but in the nuclear age, strategic deterrence has only been broken once - when China attacked the UN forces during the Korean war, estimating, correctly, that strategic deterrence did not apply to a conventional war of limited scope.
The apex of strategic deterrence is the triad of delivery: Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, Strategic Bombers and short range submarine based missiles, combined with tactical capabilities and a survivable command and control system to order a coordinate an attack. However, beneath this apex there is a gradually escalating chain of deterrent capabilities that states have attempted to achieve, maintain and exploit. These lower tiers have proven to be insufficient deterrence on a number of occasions. In short there is no thrill, like overkill. Overkill relies on three components: the payload, the means of delivery, and the means of command and control.
Lower levels of deterrent capability involve substituting less expensive or less capable weapons in place of more capable ones for the warhead, means of delivery, and command and control.
The top tier payload is the Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle nuclear warhead. A thermonuclear device uses a fission device to set off hydrogen fusion, thus creating a much larger explosion. Beneath this is the atomic payload - a uranium or plutonium fission device. A thermo nuclear warhead is 50 times more destructive than an atomic device alone. Thus states with nuclear capability have far more ability to threaten large soft targets, such as cities, or super-hardened targets. They can also leverage their available highly enriched fissiles - so called "weapons grade" plutonium and uranium. Instead of needing a 50 kiloton uranium device - many smaller devices can be made, and used to trigger nuclear warheads, for greater flexibility at lower cost.
Chemical weapons, and aerosol petroleum payloads can produce localized effects that are comparable to atomic weapons, but they do not have the same strategic deterrent effect - because it is easier to harden targets against them, it is easier to move outside of their blast or effect radius, and they do not produce on going fatalities. Atomic radiation is the weapon that keeps on killing. To date there has not been the successful weaponization of the only competing fear payload - contagious, virulent and lethal biological weapons.
Means of Delivery
The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile represent the most powerful strategic nuclear weapons. The first because of its remorseless ability to inflict staggering fatalities, the second because of the extremely short decision window that it creates. ICBMs give enough time to make a coordinated response, SLBMs give only moments to make a decision. The SLBM, while developed later, is now far less expensive to create and maintain, especially since there is a yet lower cost submarine strategic weapon, namely the tube launched cruise missile. Tube launched cruise missiles, capable of carrying atomic payloads of 10 kilotons are within reach of nations that will not have ICBM capability for decades. Many ordinary diesel electric submarines can be retrofitted to launch cruise missiles, so long as they fit into the relatively standard 533mm tube width.
Command and Control
An often overlooked component of strategic deterrence is command and control - the ability to plan, prepare, execute and improvise. Strategic deterrence requires planning, preparation and execution, and since strategic deterrence assumes the possibility of a massive first or preemptive strike, the ability to improvise in the execution of that plan. Nations without all four components have their strategic deterrence discounted, since it opens the possibility that a first strike would be successful. This first strike thinking breaks deterrence's most important weapon: unthinkability. China is currently worried that the US, by massive conventional means, could cripple it strategic system, and is engaged in a massive effort to create greater flexibility and survivability.
A Deterrent Force
The possession of atomic weapons, or an atomic weapon program is one level of deterrence. The next stage is being able to credibly deliver these payloads in a survivable manner.  Aircraft and artillery, while easy to reach weaponization of atomic payloads, are notoriously unsurvivable, particularly with small numbers of devices. Instead, mobile missile launchers are the next stage. After this comes intermediate range weapons and submarine based weapons. A crucial side path is the ability to take cruise missiles, and tube launch them, since it makes every Hunter-Killer submarine with sufficient avionics a potential strategic deterrent. Since these submarines are far more common than strategicly capable "Boomers", and have many other uses, this sideline is the shortest distance for a small state to have credible deterrence against a large state such as the USA. Three subs and some cruise missiles put both US coasts, as well as close allies, into play.
Iran as a Deterrent State
A state which possesses, or is thought likely to possess, a deterrent force can be termed "a deterrent state". Deterrent states do not necessarily have deterrent capabilities, but are thought to be able to acquire them more rapidly than a strategic threat could be mounted against them. In essence, if a state could acquire deterrence faster than its enemies could act against it, it has a measure of strategic deterrence. Since deterrence rests not only on the possession of payload, delivery and control - but on the perception of possession and the political will to use the deterrent should it come to that - states often begin generating the perception of political will, or covering that perception, before engaging in actual acquisition of a deterrent. Saddam Hussein engaged in a decade long attempt to create the perception of a deterrent, even though the objective facts did not support his having one.
Iran is a state with the need for deterrence, and with many of the individual components of deterrence. It has an ongoing atomic enrichment program, which may have produced enough fissiles to assemble devices. It has the design capacity to build and, as importantly, weaponize for missiles, these devices. While it is very far from having nuclerar capability, and thus from having the full range of strategic response, atomic capability is within its reach within 2 years.
As importantly, in the Summer of 2005, it reached agreement with Russia to modify its three877EKM "Kilo" class submarines to be able to fire Soviet designed cruise missiles. While many of these are designed for conventional targets, such as ships, there are variants which Iran has access to with 300km ranges, and the capability to carry 400kg payloads. This is sufficient, with Iran's capabilities, for a 10 kiloton, or sub-hiroshima size - atomic payload. The Chinese have recently created, and are rumored to be releasing for export, a variation that can be fired from the 533mm tubes of the Kilo class a cruise missile which has a range of 600km, and a larger payload. Advanced design and access to thermonuclear warheads would allow payloads with 700 kiloton strength, though these are a decade in Iran's future. Iran does not have the missile capable versions of this submarine, which could fire short range missiles.
Iran has also demonstrated the ability to train and produce units with independent leadership and initiative. This means that it is credible that an Iranian sub would be able to exercise its deterrent capabilities in the event of a first strike on Iran itself. Iran's ability to operate submarines out of its home waters has also been established. While Iran does not have access to facilities that would make it able to threaten the US mainland, it could threaten targets whose loss would be considered unacceptable to the US.
In short, Iran has the components to reach, sometime before 2010, the basic level of a deterrent force, and should be considered a deterrent state.
To the ultra-hawk, any new deterrent state is a threat, and the achieving of deterrent force capability a crisis. However, this view is no longer tenable in light of America's full strategic commitment and lack of political will. The US has accepted India and Pakistan and deterrent states, and India currently possesses a deterrent force of submarines with cruise missiles capable of carrying atomic payloads. Should its thermonuclear program deliver within a reasonable time frame, it will become the first nation since China to achieve the thermonuclear deterrence level. Not far behind are the two China client states of North Korea and Pakistan. Pakistan has a deterrent force that includes intermediate range mobile missile launchers, and has built warheads which can be weaponized for them.
The political ramifications of Iran as a deterrent state with a deterrent force are not in the direction of a fear of an expansionist Iran. Unlike North Korea, the current regime has no demonstrated propensity to desire expanded territory. It does fund ideologically sympathetic groups, including state sponsored terrorism. However, the consequences for Iran of sponsoring atomic terrorism are such that it would not do so.
Instead, the consequences of Iran developing a deterrent force are two fold. The first is that it would be another proliferating nation. It has a demonstrated propensity to proliferate. Second, the US would no longer be able to deal with Iran as a non-nuclear nation. That is, American ability to threaten Iran would be sharply limited.
The potential responses are three: one can talk, one can bribe, or one can bomb. The possession of a deterrent force reduces the possibility of the third, so offensive preƫmptive or preventative attacks are a wasting asset. This "use it or lose it pressure" is undoubtedly forcing the Bush executive to act precipitously. Bombing is already of limited value, because Iran has an economic deterrent - stop selling oil, and gain OPEC approval for an embargo on the US. The economic consequences of which would swiftly bring an end to any US regime that attempts to bomb without compelling reasons and substantial results. The current US administration does not have the first, and has a track record of not producing the second.
Bombing might also not produce a significant delay in Iran's coming into possession of a deterrent force. Iran could, if the threat level escalates high enough pull the fissiles from its exposed points, shield them, and assemble a deterrent force from the fissiles produced. It could then rebuild the reactor in a more survivable location, and become a declared power. All that bombing would do is generate hostility, and force Iran to declare earlier rather than later.
That is, because having a deterrent rests as much on means of delivery and command and control - both of which Iran is acquiring - as much as payloads, blocking access to atomic payloads temporarily does little, because it simply means that Iran will rebuild its atomic program in a safer place, while it pursues removing the two other bottlenecks to deterrent status. Bombing can delay the first Iranian atomic test, but it will not significantly delay the day that an Iranian flagged Kilo class submarine leaves port with nuclear teeth.
Talking has two parts: one is positive extension of friendship, the other is threats, and pressure from international bodies. So far both have proven to be of relatively limited value in dealing with Iran. It is not just the long term hostility towards the United States of the current regime - reciprocated in spades from Washington - but the general belief in Iran that the United States is on the run in Iraq and economically. Iran, as long as there are US forces in Iraq, has a response to any US threat - arm insurgents and radicalize Shia in Iraq. An Iraq that falls apart with US forces in it will deliver unacceptable casualties rapidly.
The third option is the most acceptable. Iran, unlike many other states, is not a top to bottom ideological state. In fact, the current regime holds power, to some extent, based on the threats from the United States. A secularizing Iran would, then see the possession of a deterrent force as necessary, but would see leveraging it as counter-productive. The best route for the United States is to undermine the ideological regime which is willing to pour vast resoures in pursuit of a strategic deterrent, when no such deterrent is seen as needed by the general population.
However, the high probability is that Bush will up the pressure, and use the cover that it is to give the European and Russian efforts more teeth, and then execute on threats at that point where there is domestic political advantage to be gained. That is, as with Iraq and the GWOT, he will double cross his allies in pursuit of his internal objectives in the United States.
As such, since bombing does not advance US long term interests significantly, and there is a regime in the United States with the demonstrated propensity of turning chronic problem into explosive crisis so that it can profit from the chaos and confusion, the only stance available to the US public and to allies is to be vocal in opposition to the use of military force against Iran unless certain bright lines are crossed. Because of the demonstrated propensity by the Bush executive to lie about when lines have been crossed, the body making this determination must be independent of the US, and spelled out emphatically each and every time a declaration is made to Iran to persuade it that there are consequences for failing to cooperate.
The compellence issue raises its head: given the fragile economic state of the West with respect to oil, many compellence options are off the table. Since compellence requires the ability to resist any counterstrike from the compelled, US policy makers must begin to realize that re-establishing the basic conditions of compellence, as soon as possible, are an urgent necessity, not a luxury. These include terminating involvement in Iraq, moving the US economy off of energy dependence for its monetary basis, and re-establishing credibility in the integrity of its international diplomacy.
Iran is not a threat, and on the other hand it is. That is Iran does not yet possess a deterrent force, but the point where it can be prevented from acquiring one is rapidly closing in. While Iran will not deploy a credible deterrent for at least three years, the point where it cannot be prevented from doing so is coming up within the next 12 months, and may already have been passed.
The Bush executive will want to act before the realization of the point of no return has sunk in with global policy makers and the public. As soon as the inevitability of a deterrent force Iran is accepted, there will be no political will to create animosity towards a future deterrent state. The time there will be sufficient "proof" to launch strikes is, paradoxically, the point after which Iran cannot be stopped from reaching DFC - deterrent force capability. In short, Bush will wait through the rest of 2006, and only being escalating pressure on Iran militarily in the latter half of the year, when it is useful politically, and act in 2007, when he needs both the access to liquidity in the form of defense appropriations, and the political cover for domestic objectives such as funnelling FICA taxes into the stock market.

Therefore there is no reason to attack the Persian Empire,  there is much more to gain by attacking Iraq,  and leave Iran as a counter play.  Sorry Sy,  they are not going to take  Iran while there is still so much time to spend in Iraq.

Astagal back in print

"Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had in our 20s, while still bearing a literary feel that is more thought provoking than The Catcher in the Rye. Perhaps this is why Patti Smith, as described in the introduction, carried around the work in her travels for so many years."
 the introduction is  terrible,  but don't let that stop you from reading the novel,  which is as good,  or better,  than Catcher in the Rye.

Wolf down  the Between oil and money is staying wide... read rest,  it is interesting to say the least...

the Democratic party now joins with the Communist party in Russia....

We look back on elder days, and perhaps the reflect on how much we have changed, and yet not changed at all. We look back at Mark Twain, and see how every thing that could be expressed came down to one redeeming feature: race. Then as now, seemed everything could be boiled down to this one feature. But that is not really the case, because sex has thrown up its ugly head. And then gender has reared up its ugly head as well. But there is only one thing that is truly different about other people, and that is that it is not other people, but ourselves. People in ancient Egypt did not care about race, look at their obelisks. But they did have differences that we would not notice, and care each other down by them, just as race is not an issue for another time, though it is an issue for us. Just as sex is for us. As orientation has reentered its ugly head for us.

This means that race, sex, orientation, in every other thing that you can name, is really about this difference. Some now call it the other, to differentiated it from what defines us as being a part. But that is not truly what it is, because in the distance, we know, we fear, we tremble, that it is not them but we, are different. Though we do not want to see it. This difference is that we know that underneath the skin, we are not the same as other people, even if we look just like them. That is what we fear the most: that through no fault of our own, we have of stain running through our bones, sustain which if anyone were to see it, would tremble our very nature, and remove us from the company of good graces. Thus we say race, or gender, or sex, because these things can be differentiated, and quantified, and assures that we are not different as we appear. But in footsteps, we know that it is not race, or gender, or sex, or any thing we can name. Instead it is crawling in our guts, the unnameable thing, that makes us different, or makes someone else different if only we could find it. A treason, a flaw, something that makes us different, or makes them different from us.

This is why we truly hold and collection, to banish out, that staining that we know that we can find if only we look for it. Because we will know it when we find it, because it's only us, only us that we can tell.

That is why we must clear the field, and make it so that only one candidate can run. Because that candidate is pure and pristine, even if it means that all other candidates have been cleared from the field. Because the one clean candidate means that there are dozens of dirty candidates, which we should not exposed to. It would be wrong. It would be impure.

And if you believe that, as the saying goes, you can believe anything that you want. Because who has heard of a candidate with only one person running? Oh the Communist party in the former Soviet union, and now the Democratic party in New York.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Pillars of Victory: Populist, Progressive, Liberal (2004)

The Democratic Party doesn't need a complicated frame, in fact, we are better off without it. We also don't need to be the "mommy" party of government services, because people may live with mommy, but daddy brings home the presents and the punishments.
Instead the Democratic Party has to get three simple things right: it has to be populist in the belly, progressive in its heart, and liberal in its head. Various wings of the Democratic party will focus on one of these three things, but without all three, in balance, there isn't going to be victory. We must also rip these three parts away from the Republicans. What I mean and how to do it below the fold.
First some terms.
Populism is an appeal to the romantic rhetoric of the basic good of the people, and to the idea that government should reflect the will of the people. Populism is emotionalist in its terms, relies on focusing the public's attention on a single individual or case to produce sympathy and sentiment. The opposite of populism is oligarchy, and to a lesser extent, elitism.
Progressivism is fundamentally a belief in three quantities: that a free people, when organized into an effective, uncorrupted groups, can make their lives and the world better with sharp concerted action. Progressivism reflects populism. The difference between a pure populist, and a progressive populist is simple. A pure populist will see social evils, where they exist, as an by product of the local grassroots culture, and not to be tampered with. It was regressive populists that made that argument against civil rights, or that make the argument that discrimination based on sexual orientation is legitimate. The opposite of progressivism is traditionalism, or regressive forces that see the past as better than the present.
Liberalism is the most misunderstood of the three. Liberalism is the belief that we can comprehend the systematic nature of human activity, and shape it, not just by concerted action, but by shaping how people act. It is more subtle, and therefore easier to mischaracterize. But liberalism's fundamental idea is that society has a shape and a structure that is more complicated tha simple maxims. One can't govern out of the book of proverbs, or on autopilot, says the liberal. One has to face the world, as it is, and do what needs to be done, even if it sometimes goes against the grain.
It's easy to envision populism that is neither progressive nor liberal. The Republican Party uses "that old time religion" as its version of populism without a hint of liberality or progressivism about it. Quite the contrary, they appeal to the Neaderthal. Consider anti-secular rhetoric used in the last month to manufacture a "war on Christmas". Stories were concocted if need be to great a bogeyman of evil conspiracy.
It's not that much harder to be a progressive without being a liberal or a populist. Right wing progressivism involves business, and is touched with the populism of the individual storekeeper or shop owner. This pseudo-populism isn't the reality, the club for growth hasn't done many favors to small businessmen. Instead, the right wing believes in elitist progressivism - economic elites are the "creative sector of the economy".
Liberalism was the governing ideology of America for so long that it is important to remember that it was, for a time, a competing ideology with progressivism. Woodrow Wilson brought the word "liberalism" into American political discourse - before then no major American party had identified with the word, which was over a century old in European and Latin American politics - but he was not a progressive. A quick check of his civil rights record in his administration, will confirm that one of the reasons that Wilson did not form a lasting political coalition, is that there was something missing from it in his attempt to weld the head of the party in the Northeast and its gut in the Old South.
In our own time there are plenty of liberals who aren't progressive or populist. The inside of Washington is loaded with them, people who talk about policy and talk about problems, and never once relate it to the public mood. Joe Lieberman is a "liberal", he even has a certain tinge of populism in appealing to the bipartisan spirit. What he is not, is he is not progressive. Lieberman is happy to spend his career defending the system as it exists. Many traditionalist liberals backed the war in Iraq, because they saw Saddam as a blot, and the war as a chance to remove it. It is a good technocratic idea to have. It's also wrong, because it misses the key progressive piece of the puzzle - don't trust people who aren't trust worthy to do anything.Sawicky's dictum is "don't do deals with dipsticks".
There are also plenty of populists who want progressive results, but don't want liberalism. Instead, they feel a pain, see an anecdote, and shoot off a ranting non-solution that seems to joint the two. Protectionism is reactionary progressivism at work. Republicans love reactionary progressivism, because it makes the Democrats look like stupid Republicans. Without the argument that the world is complex, and that if you push it here, it can bite you in the ass there - when it comes to Republican reactionary ideas and Democratic reactionary ideas, the public will pick the nastier party every time.
The tensions between the three pieces are inevitable. A populist feels the public's pain first, a progressive wants to push things forward, even if it hurts, and a liberal sees the corridors and combinations, oftne having divorce himself from the human cost of any one of them - because they all have human cost. To balance all three components is going to require constant work. The Republicans have to balance their parts, but they do it with money. The privileged pay for the structure, and therefore the bottom feeding parts have a short leash. They will occasionally overrun the desires of their lords and masters, but will get a short sharp jerk of the chain when they run out of lead.
A populist, progressive and liberal democratic party will be different from the one we have now. For a long time, the Democratic Party forgot progressivism - it was the missing piece of the Clinton Years. Schlesinger noted it. What Clinton brought back was populist rhetoric, even though the populists didn't vote for him the first election - they didn't vote against him, the way they had voted against Dukakis in 1988. But what was it in service of? While there were vague nostrums about bridges to the 21st century, and a few concrete actions, Clinton left behind no legacy, because he didn't have the progressive impulse to change how things worked on a fundamental level.
This is why the word progressive has been thrown around such a great deal in the last five years - it was the component of the legendary Democratic Party that was palpably absent. Gore and Kerry didn't exude progressivism - but Dean and Clark do, Feingold does. Progressivism forms the core of the Democratic Party, because it is the mortar that holds the bricks together. Once the mortar sets, it is very difficult to knock the bricks over.
What needs rehabilitation now, is liberalism. Populists make promises, liberals keep them. The way to pay for the social goods that people want, is to have a means of directing the national effort towards those goods, with a the least cost to the most people. Liberalism without progressivism is in a quandry - the best way to accomplish this is to tax the rich. No one gets less happiness out of a dollar than a person who has a billion of them. Heck, he doesn't even know how many of them he really has.
Liberalism has become stodgy. It has begun to forget its own basic premise - and that is that the world needs to be looked at fresh every day, in the reports coming in from the field, in the numbers, in its systematic nature - and dealt with fresh every single day. Some days you are going to raise taxes, some days cut them, some days create programs, other days bring them to an end. The constant balancing of tensions is the nature of liberalism. You can win elections on your gut, but you can't govern on your belly.
Liberal institutions need shaking up, they need to have the flooding light an energy that progressivism brings with it forced into every office, every room, every meeting. Liberal institutions have to realize that liberalism isn't about being the best wonk in the class to get ahead, or creating money flows that keep members reelected. It's about the people, finding the best future out of the realistic futures that are out there.
So how does this differ from what we have right now. I'm going to talk about some things going on behind the scenes that tell me that, while the Democratic Party is learning, it isn't there yet. One such group is "The Democracy Allliance" - a group of wealthy liberals who were supposed to be handing out checks to get things to happen. So far they have given money only two groups that were already established - Media Matters and the Center for American Progress. Both worthy groups, but not in need of a helping hand. Slowly they are edging their way into funding projects farther afield - but they haven't and people who know about why say the same thing: they wan't too much control, they have too much of a love of process, and too much caution about who to give the money to. Instead, the fear is that the same losers who have titles now will get bigger offices and better titles. There's alot of anger among people who have been working their fingers to the bone for Democratic victory, that on the otherside of a glass wall is the money to actually put much of what has been started into operation.
This is an example of how process, credentialling, measuring - all reasonable things - often stand in the way of progress. The liberal without the progressive impulse will dither, he's risk averse by nature. There are times to be super cautious, I want the Social Security Administration run by cautious people, who think far in advance. But there are times when there is an immediate, direct, need for action. And now is that time. The clock is ticking on our chances to turn American around before it requires a massive budget crunch and massive dislocation. But the money isn't flowing.
We all hooted and howled at "Together America can do better." as a slogan. I'm going to write something I have heard, but haven't seen anywhere - the word is that it was George Lakoff who came up with the slogan. What's misssing, is the populist fire in the belly - it is the urge to dampen the powder with the word "together" which is the deal killer. Chop it down to "We can do better", and it isn't bad. But the liberal technocrat, and often the progressive politician, fear the populist anger - partially because they know it is often directed at scape goats.
Almost everyone who reads this site regularly knew in 2000 that George Bush was not someone that the Democrats could do business with. George Herbert Walker, while he was a slimebag corrupt politician, was someone who would cave into the overwhelming pressure of reality. He raised taxes when he had to, he passed civil rights legislation when he needed to, he didn't run the Iraq war for partisan advantage. Sure he lied about Iran-Contra, Hortoned Dukakis to win the election and fiddled while the S&L crisis burned - but kept his idiot sons out of trouble. But in DC he had the reputation of being someone whose handshake you could rely on.
Only now, only recently, have Washington insiders realized that Bush is not someone they can work with. Bush doesn't even know many senior Democratic Senators by sight. Herbert Walker did. Spygate is important, not just because of warrantless searches, but because the technology that is behind it was shot down by public outrage. Remember the "Total Information Awareness" program? In DC, if something is shot down, the rules say it should be dead. That's the way the game is played, every politician has his proposals, but it is the public that does the disposals with its disposition. Sure, he won't veto the occasional megapork bill - the Ag and Transportation bills were exactly that. And that is enough to keep a few populist, but not progressive or liberal, Democrats on side. But the creeping realization is, that the only people who do well with Bush, are the ones that get a check.
Progressives knew instinctively that Bush was bad news, even if they didn't know how in all the details. Liberals who had forgotten progressivism, or populists who wanted no truck with liberalism, could be fooled by platitudes about humble foreign policy and compassionate conservatism.
This is an example of how a divided Democratic Party can be beaten by a unified Republican Party. You can buy populist votes with pork, you can bamboozle Liberals with big promises, you can run Progressives in circles over false problems - but only if they don't talk to each other, or better yet, are made to see each other as enemies for the same pie. As long as there is a basic belief that the Democratic Party is populist or progressive or liberal - then the infighting alone keeps the Republicans happy.
Republican infighting is just starting to be on display - the libertarians are defecting, first over the war, then over the lack of progress on dismantling the government, and now over domestic spying. But it is Democratic infighting that has become a way of life.
So here I am again at the bottom line. The bottom line is that the public needs to say "enough is enough" to reactionary, regressive and economic elitist policies, and to the party that is their instrument. But this car needs to be junked. As long as people like Sperling are busy telling Democrats that they can be Democrats without being liberal, or the DLC is telling us we can be Democrats without being progressive - the Democratic Party isn't going to be a replacement for the present. At that point the Republicans can focus the public's attention on fears. It's like the automechanic who sees an easy mark and says "well your pistons need to be replaced..." And the mark, not being able to see them, agrees to it.
The bottom line for Democrats is that the money people need to start seeding a much wider array of projects, and see which ones work. The problem is that apparatchniks of the party haven't gotten good marching orders, which wealthy people are inclined to believe as a narrative, but that the apparatchnik class is out of touch. The bottom line is also the other way. The base of the party needs to be able to smell good liberal government when it is presented to them. They need to back leaders who can balance all three parts, and not merely rubber stamp the best known name. It isn't the machinery in Washington that is, ultimately, going to educate the public as to why America will be better off under a renewed Democratic Party, with a renewed mandate to get the country moving. It's people like us, out here in the country where most Americans live and work.
It's also important to get things in the right place. Populism doesn't come up with good solutions, because populists love unilateral action. Well, sometimes you are in a position of being able to act unilaterally and get ahead, but usually you aren't. Progressivism often jumps the wrong way on gut issues - Republicans live by playing the gay card, because that is an issue they know that Progressives have to think about a stance on, and that hesitation is visible to the populist mass. It's "flip flopping" or "waffling". Liberalism will sit and fiddle with org charts and spreadsheets, until there is fire under its feet.
And the final step is to get integrated. The Republican operative looks smooth because he's integrated. He has a gut level belief in his being better than everyone else - that's the smarmy smirk they all wear. In his heart he's a reactionary - if modern liberalism was for it, he's agin it - except of course for anything that makes money or blows up arabs. And in his head, he's constantly looking for an upside angle - a way to heard people forward into borrowing more money, running their savings down even further and skimming off the profits. He or she has a certain look, because he has faith that as long as the cattle stampede into the slaughter house, he will do just fine. He's only got three jobs: keep the cattle stupid, keep the cattle moving, and keep the wheels of the machine turning.
An integrated Democrat will have Clinton's ability to speak from the gut, Dean's ability to make change a moral imperative, and Krugman's way of looking at the whole picture. He or she too will have a certain look, because he two has only three jobs: educate the public, organize the public, peer into the future to find the best place to lead them. People will respond to this, because, when broken down, most of the public doesn't hate liberals, it just doesn't see the left as an integrated force that is delivering change for the public benefit from top to bottom.
So those are the three pillars of victory - Populist in our gut, Progressive in our hearts - and Liberal in our heads. All at once, no excuses. 

Wind Quintet #1, Prayers Ascending

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pray for Me, as I Pray for You

Pray for me, as I pray for you.


(This is a story of Ishtar,  on a parallel universe where Venus is the warm weather planet.  there are complicated reasons why this is so,  and they make it so that Earth is the main planet,  and Ishtar is one step outside of that.  Of a small side step to left.  This planet then only has life that has escaped from Earth,  but lives on Ishtar.  Why  this is so is another tale. what is important is that they had a war,  and afterwards they  had peace of a different sort.  these people are Muslim, because  Muslims were one of the first people to discover how to make the jump from Earth to Ishtar.  Thus the story is beginning in the war,  afterwards when the war is over,  and before when justice was taking shape.  Their is reason for all of this which you will find out in to course.  

If you know of   Virginia Woolf,  it's a long the same lines as her tail,  also of James Joyce.  That is to say it takes some time to understand what is going on here.   You don't have read  it if you want to make some ordinary kind of sense,  that is not what it is for.  It also reads better in small caps only,  but that would be too much a  strain on the reader.

 I promise the next story will be compact and reasonably told.  But this one is different.)


There was a faint glimmering morning light, and a small group of men squatted around a cold camp, they drank tea which had been sun brewed the day before; it was the 25th day of the siege of Pradesh, and all habits were settled ones.. The six of them were now close to each other, in that manner that those who were waiting to fight together are. They knew habits, smells and movements, they were bound together like arrows in a bundle.One of them was both larger, though not taller, and somewhat older than the others, he had a flowing beard which was tied in two braids, in a style which he had adopted from the local inhabitants, as a means of keeping it out of his way. He surveyed the group, noting that one man was still ill from a fever two days before, and that another was showing signs of being disgruntled, because he scowled with every sip of the lukewarm draught.There was just enough light for him to scribble a short note to his oldest daughter, who, since the death of his wife in childbirth, had been the lady of the household. Her uncle was the trustee, of course, but his little Shahzadeh had shown a remarkable ability to manage the affairs. In truth his younger brother did little more than sign what needed to be signed, which pleased them all.I know it is your birthday today, and I am hoping that I will be home for your next one. It is almost light, it is another day like any other for us, as this siege of Pradesh has dragged on. I do not see how it can end soon, for the city was well supplied. However, our allies are virtuous, and glad that they have our aid Insha-Allah that all promises made and all covenants kept. He closed it, sealed it, and sent the sick man back to have it mailed off and told him to wait the day back at the main camp. No sense in having everyone become ill from one ill man. 

That was the way that Kurush Parand thought – to join both what was humane and what was expedient. He often worked men harder than others, the some 80 under his command were often seen stripped to the waist during the day, and were often working past dusk – but only because the preparations might save them. At this point he looked out over the massed camp and the siege lines. What he saw displeased his eye. In the center was a high walled city, built of brown and grey stone, with high turrets and strong bastions that jutted out. A top these battlements were many men, well armed with spears, and with many heavy ballistae set at regular intervals. The pennants were still high and clean, replaced each few days with regularity.

Around the edges were trenches, with defensive works. There should have been sharpened stakes, but there were not. There should have been more bunkers, but there were not. There should have been regular patrols, there were few. Instead the army of the Vedic Sultan of Peridistan was a ragged assembly of young men, old warriors beyond their time, and mercenaries from the Caliphates. The Islands had sent a few cavalry, which were of little use in a siege except for communications. It was the Caliphate of Kentauri, his home country, that had responded to the call to put down the revolt – for so it was called, though of course it had been longer than living men since the schism had allowed a Vedic Kingdom to break away from the Empire of the Faith.

His own troops were of middle quality, Al-Quareshi, his home city, was known for sailors, poets, necromancers and traders, not soldiers. He, himself, had not been a soldier in some time, but the experience of three hard campaigns is burned into brain and bone, not memory. His habits were still good, and he set the men to improving his small part of the war. Setting stakes and digging a second bunker, cleaning out the water, preparing weapons. The sun now blazed rapidly above the horizon. It was a green, and the air was ashen in the mouth, the wind was from inland, and the smell of sulfur was particularly strong. The green sun persisted even after the first hour, it was to be one of those days, when the wind dropped there would be a touch of a flurry of a black brackish ash that tasted of salt. The weather here seemed to include rocks that fell from the sky as well as rain.

The morning’s work done, and the day staying overly warm, he set the men to rest in the shade – having thought to bring canvas that he could stretch over the trench this was easy. He sent one man for more water and then began to keep the log.

They might name this the Boredom War, without any exaggeration. It was lasting too long, and this siege was costing a fortune. It was time to fight or go home.

The day passed that way, and a deep green sun ended the light.

- - -

Late that night, in that deep pit of darkness between the long dusk and the twilight of dawn – there came a sound. The first part was familiar, it was a clacking sound of catapults. He looked to his own section of the defenses, every man not on watch was in a bunker, he felt no qualms, the lead and rock missiles would fall, and do little damage. It was why they were built. It was a waste of ammunition to shoot in the dark, and at first he shrugged. Then he stopped. It was not like the defenders to waste anything, they had been cautious. He then did not hear the heavy thunks and clanking of missiles landing. Instead, it was like the sound made when a wagoneer drops sacks of flour or potatoes on the ground. It was a muffled thud. He tugged at his aid, “Sound alert in bunkers. Have everyone set to defense. Arm bows and make ready.”

His aid ran off, he also told two sentries to do so. His section was soon awake and preparing, the scraping sounds of armor being put on, the creaking of crossbows readied.

And then they could hear a new sound, screams of agony, and pain. Something was wrong, something was very, very, wrong. And that rattled his gut. It was not that he was not a brave man in his head, but he knew that his intestines sometimes gave way when they ought not. But now was not a time to worry about this. He tugged two men and sent them in opposite directions along the trenches, and told them to report. It was not long afterward that a messenger arrived saying that there would be a retreat, that the entire west side of the siege was broken and there was terrible slaughter. He was not to repeat it, but there were stories of men strangled by the air.

“I will not retreat. Stop with this message and send another. Move westward until you meet the enemy, fight for the glory of the Shanenshah, for we must hold this night.”

He then gathered up his own men and began moving towards the fighting, which was not growing audible with shows and clanks. But, as yet, no whir of flights of arrows. Night fighting was considered the greatest skill in the arts of war, and men who could move through the dark and be lethal, were accounted to be the most skilled of soldiers. He had but little training, but it was well enough. The air still hung heavy with sulfur, and while he knew no Homas of Fire, it was clear that risking torches would be ill advised.

So it was into a desperate combat by night. He began having them move, both along the main trench, and through the messenger’s trench, gathering men up, and convincing them to make a stand. “Else we will be killed as we flee.” A few looked at him distantly.

“It’s death there, the very air grows up and strangles. There are dozens laying, untouched by steel.”

It was this moment that made his head turn from cool logic to cold blood. He would, he brushed aside the fear, and it felt as if his mind had become separated from his body and all was distant, save the feeling of his skin. His voice grew to the point of command.

“Rally to me. The Faithful rally to me.”

His voice was had raised to a bellow, and several jumped, their own faces becoming flush. The feeling of blood rising became a flame that leapt from man to man. His own motion became a kind of fluid, as if he could feel what was below him in the dry trench, he stepped over dropped weapons and gear, and behind grew a train of men. He had read it many times in his favorite book on war, there is only one kind of leadership.

“Follow Me”, the words came to his lips from long mental repetition. He had never faced a rout before, when it seemed the body of the army was falling apart, lost like ants without a queen. He set himself to as quick a stride has he could manage. And trusted to The God and his skills.

Going down the turning of the trenches grew a more macabre experience with each passing turn, there were bloated bodies, and the floor grew to a mud of sand and blood. His sword was in his hand, he had not been conscious of drawing it. It was a blade in the German style, straight and with a curved point. He had purchased it on a trading trip not long before raising a regiment and coming to war. His own from Al-Quareshi were not good soldiers, but they were prone to fight when the blood was on them.

It was simmering, but not yet boiling.

He continued forward towards a vague reddish light ahead of them. It must be the fire priests. Shortly he turned the corner of the trench and saw them there, five white and red robed men and two red robed women with lanterns and oil bombs, they cast the oil bombs ahead, which burned out the air of sulfur. There were flashes ahead of them as the air burned bright with a taint of a kind of blue flame after it. He had seen it among the Germans, and knew what they called it “Prussian Air”. It was a poison.

He stopped with the head priest, he recognized the man.

“We need to charge forward. Can we light torches?”

The priest shook his head negatively. “The air is bright with fire and spirits, we must use flares above. We are clearing out some ground so we may fire them off. I can detail two grenadiers to open the way for you when I am done with this.” He made a ritual gesture to the fire spirit – which was a god in the old religion, but under the rule of the faithful was considered to be an archangel.

He was restless as he waited and took moments checking the body of men behind him, there were over 100 in all, he had collected the remains of two regiments into his body. He felt they could hold the trenches if they could burn off the Prussian Air.

The first flares went up above. The Homas had done its work, the flares burned of themselves, and the streamers they set off did not set more ablaze. Everything became stark bright and shadow, a colourless sketch of its daylight form, grotesque in the way a geographic map is a grotesque of a country side. The curve of the trench became a gash in the land, like a long wound from a blunt sword, puckering and bleeding smoke and soot. He could see flashes in the trenches themselves, and for the first time he heard gun fire: since the Kentauri had no musketeers, it was from the defenders, now in the trenches and rolling the flanks of the routing besiegers.

“Keep the flares above, and when you see billowing clouds from the trenches, put flares into them.”

“It will burn, perhaps uncontrollably. It is Herron.”

“So is poison, and that is what they are using.”

The priest nodded. “I will cleanse the impure with fire.” It was said in almost gleefully mechanical way, as if he was both aware of its ritual nature, and the meaning in this case. Kurush could feel, rather than hear, the smile.

Then as they stepped over them men who had been strangled by the air, he began to hear the aid leading a chant. Walking turned to marching, he had thought to be silent, but that was no longer the mood of what was becoming a raging mass of men. Delicate stepping turned to hard crunching. Swords were beat against daggers. So be it, was his own thought. He saw motion ahead, being a round eye, he did not quite make it out well.

He motioned to his two grenadiers, and a small guard and forged ahead, his plan was to burn off the coming Prussian Air, and then rush into the attack.

Then heard distantly the clack of catapults again, and not far ahead, certainly no farther than a man could run in a minute in an open field – he saw billows reflected in the flash of flares, as the world alternated between an almost blank abyss when there was no flare, and the phantasm landscape of flare light. The billows were growing closer. His own head throbbing, he dropped from the mode of boiling blood that urged him to charge, and remembered his training, long before, as a doctor, for yes, that is what he had studied to be.

He turned to the grenadier. “Burn off that.”

The grenadier did a complicated motion with his hands which was both gesture and effect – and tossed forward a ball spouting sparks and flame – when it landed flames – blue and red – began to be seen. The grenadiers were now using straps to cast farther and farther ahead.

Kurush cried: “The God goes Forward!” as Kentauri of old had done.

He then gave an order:

“Spears front! Spears front!”

And then from before them there came a billowing gust of something between soot and fog. There was an acrid stench of bitter almonds. It just barely floated on the air. At this moment high above a flare burst – he could see motion down the trenches, instead of men, or the black sketches of men that one sees from a flare, he saw figures out of story or horrors out of old paintings and idols, bloody gods which bloody past had worshiped. Their eyes were larger and rounder and stuck forward off their bodies, their heads were bulbous, their bodies shapeless or shaped like drapes that flutter in the wind. The had no mouths or noses, merely round protruding shapes in the lower face, the did not have skin, but a sheened black.

And then he saw a detail that brought him back from the brink of madness and fear – they carried swords, and he could see spears and pikes. They were men, men in some strange garb of battle.

Below their feet came a billowing, and he could, even through his headache smell the bitter almonds of Prussic Air.

“Flare! Flare! Flare!”

The grenadier shot up a small flare which was the aiming sign for a larger one. It was an heroic and deadly move, for it was an invitation for fire to fall on their heads. He saw one man fall chocking and twitching. The figures marched forward deliberately until they were no more than a 15 meters away. The billowing preceded them. He felt his own head grow light. And then came a nearly blinding flash above their heads, and then the air itself became dry and his last conscious moment he felt the air being stripped out of his lungs and a desperate desert dryness on his skin, and then searing pain.

His last thought was that he had failed his daughter, even though he had served his Caliph and The God. He hoped that she would forgive him the committing the greater sin to avoid the lesser.

- - -

In the morning after the battle Kentauri surveyed the dead in the desperate trench battle, they found Kurush Parand, surgeon and regimental commander, his skin badly burned, his eyes boiled out of their sockets, among the fallen at the point of the greatest crush of battle. There scattered about were dozens of men burned horribly – and as many of the sortie man-monsters, there strange armor melted on to their bodies. They burned these corpses without stripping the garb off of them, it burned black, meaning it was thick with rubber, melted into place around silk. It seemed made to keep out the foul vapors that they used.

Kurush was given a hero’s funeral – he had saved the army of The Faithful from a fearful slaughter. But even so, it was clear that the siege could not be held, too many had died. The day was passed sending messages back and forth. Less than 12 days later the army was packing and readying to leave. On Long Count 994.9.24 Pradesh was an open city again, and the ships of the faithful were sent back, laden with gold and silver which had been their price for ending the siege, while leaving Pradesh in the hands of a newly crowned King. They also carried a humiliating treaty which recognized five new kings, including the King of Pradesh.

Secretly the Caliph would sign, with trembling hands, a treaty which declared defea,t and called all of his armies home. His Vizier, who had warned against the war, was beheaded, and replaced with the general who had planned the ill-fated siege, to placate the angry army.


25 Suns later

Beneath her feet, beneath the deck, beneath the waves, was the living sea. The water swirled with phosperhescent creatures, plant and animal, large and small. Creatures with large saucer shaped eyes that had come up into the darkness to feed and frenzy. For on the death of day, came this other world, this second life, which moved to the rhythms of the invisible sun.

She peered over the railing, the strange lines of the ship unlike any she had been on before meant she was far closer to the water than on any sailing vessel of her experience. Galleys rode high in the water, as did the high castled trading vessels. She had seen the military fleet, with its huge sails, and sharpened prows, and banks of oars. This vessel was of a completely different kind, and a completely different concept. The smaller waves did not perturb it, but it did not quite “cut” through the water the way a galley did.

She looked down and the glowing soup, with its swirls and patches of green light, and dots of purple and red. The eddies of the ship pushed aside the water and created a kind of black swirl in the water. She could stare at it with a blank fascination. But then was overcome with a kind of sea sickness and had to look up at the black horizon, where dark brooding mountain shapes hugged the water low, and then contrasted against the deep blue of the sky, dotted with twinkling stars. She scanned the sky for Icarus or Lucifer, or the bright eye of Jupiter or cold Saturn.

She did not find them, but knew it might be her own failure. And then merely rested on the rail and looked outward on across the field of water. It was at this point that she startled, and looked to her right, what had caught her eye was a bit of color and moving light. And when she turned to face it, she saw a man, carrying a greenish orb beneath in his right hand. She blinked and tried to make out more, and then realized that it had to be one of the orb lights from either Kentaurus or some other place – that used the source of the bioluminescence as a cold source of light. It was enough to tie and untie ropes by, and she understood that it gained the sailing ship precious hours of sailing. For a moment the idea of a world where sight could be had deep into the night was opened before her, but the images were not specific, merely a sense how different it would be.

She watched the man climb begin working the ropes, again to keep away from the sight of the sea, which seemed to unsettle her digestion. The meal that evening had had a healthy portion of some kind of fermented cabbage, washed down with a strong drink made from some fruit, apples she was told, with which had been mixed a pungent berry that they called a “blackberry”. She was unfamiliar with it. But the mixture of that, and salted meat and a bread made from corn that was leavened, unlike the flat breads she was used to, combined to produce a stew in her stomach that was unpleasant.

It had dispelled some of her illusions, held for a very long time, that everything German had a romantic and distant air about it. But her old lessons from her father crept back into her head, and the diet of the ship, she reasoned, must be made to prevent illness. The ships of The Faithful, while they dominated the Ocean Haram, seldom strayed from it, or the bordering Crescent Sea. The Germans, on the other hand, circled the globe in their ceaseless hunt for metals and other goods.

She peered back into the water, she was sure that there was a moral to be drawn, but she was not positive what it was, and her mind was still cloudy from the alcohol in the “cider”, as they called it. Under normal circumstances she would not have violated the prohibition against alcohol – but was informed that there was no alternative. It was not the first time she had tasted it, but it was the first time, she now realized, that she had gotten to that kind of giddy state which poems described.

She smiled, her cheeks must be red, she could feel it. Touching the side of her face, she could feel them to be warm. No wonder being out in the salt touched spray was not making her cold.

It was at this point she saw deliberate strides and deliberate movements of a long limbed man. She knew him to be Arad Bijan. He was a member of the Hajj, as was herself, but not of the White Party, but of the radical group that wanted sweeping reforms in government, the party that wanted changes so far reaching as to be frightening for most to contemplate. While I name they were “hezbonujoom” – the party of the stars – their flag of a black field with small white stars had earned them another name: “The Black Party”.

It had started as an insult, but rapidly they embraced it, and she knew that Arad did so – dressed in black all of the time. Now of course, it was hard to tell, but she remembered clearly the crisp dark folds of the cloth that was new and fresh. The costume was out of older stories, from the times of tails. 

Thought of as archaic now, but just barely in the range of acceptablility – the old flowing trousers and shirt which were tied at wrists and ankles, the turban, and heavy cape without hood. She had realized when sitting next to him eating that the shirt was of German manufacture, and was made of a soft wool.

“Assalamu-Alaikum.” With a crisp cheeriness that could be felt through the darkness.

“Wa alaikum mus Salaam.” The traditional, very traditional, pair of greetings. “I am not so old fashioned as all of that.” The addition seemed important to make.

“Call it practice. In Kentaurus they place great stock in the old forms and old norms.” He had settled beside her, at a reasonable distance that implied nothing, at the railing, and looked out over the sea.

“I thought your party wanted to overturn everything.”

“Hardly, we want to save everything. It is this pressure, this straining reach for conquest that is consuming our land. It is the closedness to maintain it that is destroying us. We must pull back from it, and go in a very different direction.”

“I must admit that during the campaign, and the months afterwards, I did not understand your party’s position well.”

“A campaign is not for explanation, but clarification. To draw lines, raise flags and have people rally around them.”

“I feel I know something about campaigning.”
“Indeed you do. Now go ask your supporters what you are going to do in Kentaurus. Go ask Malakeh herself. I don’t think you will get an answer.”

She turned to look at him, and was about to offer a hot retort, but the profile was clear and untroubled, and she could not meet good humor with ill.

“Perhaps so. I tried to build a bond between myself and those who would support me.”

“Yes, and did it better than anyone. When we set foot in Kentaurus there will be two people they will be interested in, the Queen,” he pointed at her, “and the leper.” His voice descended down to a comical punctuation, that separated the the last syllable from the rest of the word, as he pointed at himself. “You are the one who as made that bond of trust, and that is more important than any position or statement. After all, we don’t know what our powers are, or will be allowed to be, and we do not know what the real crisis is.”

“The war.”

“Unlikely, the Caliphate has lost wars before, and will be able to keep losing them again. They only call for us because they need something.”

“Such as?”

“My more cynical friends would argue it is just about money. I don’t entirely subscribe to that point of view.”

She looked back out over the sea.

“And what is your, point of view, Arad?”

A half whispered chuckle: “The secrets must end.”

“Which ones?”

“You have, if I recall, a son in the war, and lost two others.”

“And a father died on Vedic lands.”

He turned to here again, this time standing without any weight upon the railing. “But I am certain that you have not heard of what happened at Jizar.”

“I know we took the city.”

“But you do not know what happened, because it was not told.”

“And you know because…” She paused, realized, and turned period into pause, “… you were there.”

“Yes. And here is what I saw. We approached the harbor quickly, there were airships aloft, great orbs as far across as a small ship, with gondolas below. But we ignored this, as we approached the sprawling unwalled town, with its disorderly wharves and cluttered warehouses. There were six great war galleys of ours, and many supporting boats, and over 5,000 of our soldiers aboard. They came at the city against the wind, under oar, snatching and boarding the small vessels of the cities harbor guard, well, fleet would be too generous. Flotilla, then.”

“And what happened?”

“The airships drifted high above us, some few cast arrows up at them, and for sport a ballista took a few shots. The first one was lucky and one began to deflate, slowly lowering down. We thought it would be easy sport.”

But there was a brooding in his tone.


“The others had drifted close enough, and falling from them were black shapes, which, when the struck a ship or the water, sprayed the forbidden fire that the Hellenes use in war. One finally struck a war galley. It took flame, and then exploded. The wind was not strong enough to blow away the haze, and that took fire. Soon a second galley was a flame, whether from the bombs, or from contagion, I do not know.”

He paused a very long moment.

“Some two thousand were lost.”

“But we took the town, it was a great victory.”

“We did, though the airships could cause great distress, the fleet rushed forward, and landed, burning the town, taking plunder. Much of our soldiery was spattered with blood. Others were spattered with other fluids, from taking their own private conquest. Much of the populace was put to the sword, or allowed to burn. The airships took their own revenge and fired another galley, but were, one by one, shot from the sky.”

His words were blunt and unornamented. But in her own imagination, she saw a city much like Al Quareshi, laid to fire and waste, its minarets toppled, its buildings wrenched to the ground.

He then finished. “Six airships, with a dozen men each, destroyed three great galleys, and slew three thousand. Can you understand the effect?”

It was with this that she turned to him, and looked in that way that she knew that whatever light there was would flash off of her cat’s eyes into his.

“I do indeed. Let me tell you my tale. When, in that year of the Vedic Wars, that we attacked Pradesh, my father was surgeon and a great officer. Kurush Parand, veteran of three campaigns, was among those who was awake that night, when the defenders slung Prussic Air outwards, purchased, I think, from Chishan. The air spread over the forces, and strangled them, and lit to fire when held to the torch. 

He was found strangled and smashed, having led the defense that saved the army there. But within a handful of days, we set sail and withdrew from that war. Yes, Arad Bijan, I know of where you speak, and the dark days that followed.”

There was not a moment’s pause. “As they were then, they are now. Tell me of what happened then, and think to now.”

She paused, her mind was a clutter of images of her own activities then, but she stopped to put them in historical perspective.

“We ended the war, and sought no new ones for some annae afterwards.”

“Indeed, and there were, as you know, quarrels and turbulence in government.”

“And you believe, that this is the real root.”

“That, and the Vizierate is without funds.” The wry tone returned to his voice.

“Which means?”

“We stand at a crossroads, many think there are two forks. But, in fact, there are many. We can stay at war, we can redouble our efforts, we can withdraw – each leading to many other pathways.”

“The White Party is the single largest.”

“But also deeply divided, the Green Party speaks with on voice, and holds much of the Heart of Kentaurus in its sway.”

“But in the city itself…”

“The cities, yes, but beyond bow shot of the walls, a sea of Green.”

“I never understood why.”
“Think of what they see – a world gradually surrounding us, Germans to the north, Chishan, the Vedic Kingdoms. If the south is closed to us, they feel we will be trapped. Suffocated.”

“I think I can see that. But how can your radical solutions help?”

“I believe we must become the engine of the world – open the telegraph lines, open everything, so that the best and brightest may rise, and the corrupt may fall.”

She shook her head. “The best educated are barely ready, the whole of the people, as much as I wish for them better. No. We leave behind rioting and bloodshed, we go to a city that is armed and ready to ignite. We might well have our heads on pikes before we fast again.”

He paused here, clearly, deciding whether to respond with certain words, the kind believers have, or to try and reason. But there was, beneath his civility, and anger that radiated from his skin. A tautness to his cheeks and muscles.

And so she cut short the discussion, before it began to simmer too much. “But I must sleep. I’m only thankful that they brought fresh clothes for me.”“Yes, your escape will make quite a story.”

She lightly touched him on the shoulder and then moved carefully down the steps to the main deck.
Beneat there were portals open to the sea, that provided a kind of were-light, which was enough to find the two hooks that she was to string her hammock between. The shimmer of green rippled across the head, and played on the beams. It did not take long for her to string her hammock up, and find her self asleep. 

She would startle awake with first light, to the clanging of a bell.

- - - 

“You’ve become quite a national heroine. There is an adulation, you’ve become,” he opened his hands in a poetic gesture of emphasis, “ a kind of national holy mother. It is fabulous to see how you have been accepted, after the tumult involved in your election.”

The word “national” sounded strange, the Caliphate was always described as a “state”, or sometimes a “confederation” if one counted the protectorate lands which were not, formally, part of the Caliphate itself. And the words were spoken to someone who was just getting used to her new name, or rather, her old one, because Shahzadeh Parand had, until recently, been known by her married name, until she divorced her husband.

That had been after her election to the Hajj, when long building and long simmering tensions finally erupted, and she decided that her life, and her seat in the Hajj would be her own.

She was speaking to Siamak Adarpadyavand, the party leader of the “Whites” of the province of Al-Quareshi, whose raven black hear, thin nose, strong jaw and piercing gaze gave him an unsettling kind of power. There were those who admired him, and those who loathed him – and she was not sure which she was yet.

But she did agree about the level of adulation she had received, it was surprising. Of the 500 members of the Hajj elected, some 25 were women, but most of these were transpearantly creatures of their husband or father, meant to fill a seat without violanting that laws against Nepotism. In deed 12 of the 25 were from the party which backed the old Vizier, which had adopted a green banner with a sword – signifying God and the Army, the two pillars of their support, followers of the old way, and the rank and file of the professional military. However of them, she, by having withstood a challenge, and having marched triumphantly into the citadel where the counting was taking place, created a great stir across the land.

She remembered learning of all of the details much later, how the judge had not only upheld her votes, but had reduced the votes of one of the traditional candidates for bribing caucus goers. The result was that of the 13 votes from the province – it was one of the smaller of the 21 provinces which made up the Caliphate proper – 8 went to the Whites, 4 to the Greens, and one to the radical “Black” party, which advocated an end to the Caliph altogether, a removal of all of the old business laws, and an greater freedoms, including opening the state telegraph network. Of the six seats from the city of Quareshi, 2 went to the Greens, though even one of these would be lost if the Whites had balanced their supporters carefully. Siamak had done this in the country side, but could not organize it in the city, because of the boisterous clamor from many candidates.

The campaign, for that is what it was being called now “the campaign for election”, in a military metaphor that she disliked, had been a jumble of meetings, talks, and speeches. But in the end she had stood third out of all of the White candidates.

“I suppose, I suppose that there has been a certain response, and yes, it is very, enthusing. But it is the will of God that new winds should come, and so they came.”

“You know what they are calling you, don’t you?”

She knew, coming here to this meeting, riding on a white horse, she had heard the cries from the streets, and young men and women with outstretched hands had called at her:

“Malakeh! Malakeh!”

It had been heady, but she had brought her self down from it by reminding herself of all that needed to be done. And how close a matter it had been.

She managed to nod quietly, as if it was no matter.

“I tell you then, that this is what we need. You are a figure of great legitimacy, I have an idea.”

She smiled and raised her eyebrows just a tad, as if to say, “Go on. Tempt me.”

He looked at her round face, which was more youthful than one would have expected from her, with its prominent cheekbones, broad forhead was framed by her richly brown hair that was tinted red as the fashion of that time. She had the kind of glowing eyes that seemed to reach out beyond all of her other features, and lips that, if not as full as a young womans, still had a certain ripeness to entice the unwary male. Yes he could see why she had so many male admirers willing to do whatever was needed to “throw petals in her path” as the saying went.

“It seems to me that the Vizier needs a hand in the Hajj, it is therefore reasonable to press for you to become part of the government.”

She took the flower that was tucked on her ear, and began to spin it by its stem in front of her face. She then gave a short laugh, and smiled across her face.

“Surely you jest, I have little experience in government, and none in the world of men and their politics.”

“That is not what the stories say.”

She smiled again. “From time to time I have exerted some influence and advice, but only when there were urgently needed deeds that needed doing, and it seemed that it only required someone willing to suggest them to have them happen.”

He gave a short chuckle and sat down on an old style chair, one that had several curved slates of wood joined together in an “X”, he reclined in it and looked up at her. His arm rested on the arm of the chair, and his head rested on his hand. She did not think it rude for him to do this as she stood there, robed and with a shawl that she had tied around her waste, for it was the custom for the one giving the audience to sit, and despite her new found fame, Siamak, friend of the Vizier, one of the architects of the demonstrations, riots and marches that had begun this wave of “Restoration” as he and the other members of the inner circle called it, was giving, not receiving, the audience.

“You are a treacherous one,” he then opened his palm face down, “I think you know the post I have in mind for you would be a purely ceremonial one.” and then he gestured with both hands up. “However, it is never wise to underestimate the power of ceremony. I managed to mollify your former husband with it.”

“You must tell me how you accomplished that.”

“I made promises.”

“You seem to give many of them.”

“I’m good at it.”

“But are you as good at keeping them as giving them?”

“We will see.”

She shifted stance, in such a way that accentuated the curve of her hip, she had learned it when quite young, gazing at a famous painting of a woman carrying water from a well, standing just that way, with a man, presumably her lover, for it was clear she was unmarried, looking on from a window above. She had always found it comforting, it was one of those first victories of a girl attempting to master womanhood. It was not done to convey particular effect, but instead to put her self at ease.

“And this position, what would it be?”

He stroked his beard and tried to take the measure of this woman. In truth, she had been forced upon him, he did not want her, but her husband’s money was important. He thought her volatile and troublesome at first. However, many had pressed him, and he finally waved it away. One of the real reasons he had not fixed the election in the city, was he wanted to see what would happen.

On the day afterward, when her soliciter had won the arguments over the votes, and the Imam who managed her political machine had secured the votes, and she had entered the citiadel at the head of what seemed to be a river of people – he was a believer. He believed in what worked, and he was only beginning to understand how. There was that faint light dawning in the front of his mind that she was going to be very useful, perhaps more useful than he was.

He began slowly: “The Hajj is supposed to have a presiding member, we have selected one of our most revered Imams. But he has said that he cannot serve, and has given his seat in the Hajj, which he did not campaign for, to another. He has, however, accepted the post of spiritual advisor to the Hajj.”

She twirled the flower idly, even though her arm had dropped to the side.

“And”. Making the word have two syllables.

“I was thinking of you for the crier, the individual who will open each session, count the quorum, and close each session.”

She let her eyebrows come in just a tad, and then shook her head.

“I don’t think I would be the right person for that.”

He stroked his beard again. “Well you should think on it.”

“And you.” The words fluttered from her lips, and she turned on her heel and left, taking no pains to move slowly, nor yet hurrying unduly. The fall in energy of disappointment was palpable. He knew he had misjudged her. He just barely silently promised, that he would not let that happen again.

- - -

At the same time, in Kentaurus, that might center of trade and government, another important, and to most histories, unimportant, event was taking place. To understand the city, understand that it is a few miles of basalt which separate two seas, the Mer Centralis, and the Ocean Haram, which in ancient times had been called the “Sea of Kentaurus”. The city of Kentaurus was the major portage point to unload goods from one side of the city, trundling them the back breaking way over the rock hills, and down the other side. Originally there had been, running from east to west, a port on the Mer Centralis side: Taurus, and another on the the other.

There were then three cities, the Hellenic port, the inner city, and a sprawling “Morerla”, which was the name which had stuck, since first it sprang up when the port was still Hellenic. The Hellenic port was least changed from its older days, but the inner city had been transfigured, when Kentaurus was first taken, it was filled with Hellenic architecture, much of which had been knocked down, on the old ampitheatres – the Tragedy, the Comedy and the History, were not destroyed, more out of their having been carved out of rock than any solicitude for theatre. Now it was filled with the buildings of the Kentauri Caliphate, and before that, the great empire of the Shahenshah which once had made the Ocean Haram an Islamic lake. The density of buildings is difficult to describe, other than one main north south road that ran along the valley, and the two “trade roads” running north to south, there is barely an alley width anywhere else that is not covered with either a building, or a public square where business is done. Human porters carried everything, and the alley ways themselves were often at the minimum required by the old “Great Law” of the Shahenshah, which required that no public way be less than 5 feet from side to side.

This law had an interesting effect, since many houses were along a maze of alley ways, nothing could be made, neither furniture, nor beds, nor anything else, that could not be carried through an alley way. The wealthy could afford to pay to clear an alley way, and thus could have objects that, at the narrowest carry, were the full width, and the common people would have to make do with half of this width. Thus there were said to be three kinds of households. The richest were the “full width” houses, the poorest the “half width” houses, and the middle were “night width”, that is people who had to carry their goods in at night, through the darkness, and hope that they were not stranded. The first would often move every year in the constant competition to be near the court favors and fahionable sections, the second would move every year to find the cheapest rents, but the middle would often be forced either to not move, or sell their larger belongings to the new renter at a very low price, or be forced to pay higher rents, since the landlord would know that it was that, or pay the costs of clearing the alleys, or take a chance with the thieves and beggars at night.

It was in one of these “night width houses” occupied for many years by one Jalal al-Kadar, a sufi mystic, and political writer, who had inherited the lease from his father, along with furniture, statues and many other objects that were “full width”, but with little money. He had, for many years, earned a precarious living as a translator, prayer leader in minor mosques, and then, political writer. He was not one of the well known writers, nor one of the famous names, but he was read by many, and took the time to organize the poor of the capital, and began staging a series of marches and riots. He also had a gift for symbolism, urging everyone to call what they were doing “The Restoration” and to wear the white thin robes of a pilgrim as often as possible. Amidst the increasingly florid hues of the old Vizierate, the new, austere style stood out.

He was writing to Siamak in Al-Quareshi bi-ism Allah al-raman al-rahim:

Now that all of the seats are deterimined, we have another problem, there is not 1 party of the new Vizier, there are 21. And though we have boldly named ourselves the White Party, and prescribed that our members go always in public dressed as Jihadeen, there is little else that unifies us, the situation is dangerous here, and I know that you are taking infinite pains there, however, you must send your members to Kentaurus as quickly as possible, so that we can organize. It is poor to give orders in our fraternity this way, but there are events here which refuse to find words. Hurry, and that there might be the God’s speed across your sails.

To this I set my hand, to you. Insha-Allah that all promises made and all covenants kept.”

It might sound strange that neither person is mentioned by name, but that was done with seals, the sending seal of the person writing the letter and the receiving seal – of the person giving it. The two seals fit together like a puzzle, and when two people became regular correspondents, they would have them cut out of stone, and stamp their correspondence accordingly. It was custom that dated back to around 900 of the Long Count, started, it was said, by the Shahenshah and one of his advisors, so that they would know that the letter had been written with access to the two seals. People kept their seals in small boxes, and locked them.

He did so now, handed the scroll to his messenger, the only servant he kept, and said “go by the roof tops, and be swift, may the God be with you.” And then hearing the short ring of the visitors bell, and went down stairs. He did not see the boy skip up to the roof, gleeful that he had excuse to jump from garden to garden, spraying pardons as he went.

And who was this man? Bespectacled, bearded, and slightly hunched over, he was the god father of the White Party in the Hajj, before anyone else, he had known that parties would be needed in the new parliament, because, as he endlessly repeated in his letters and his writing, the way to work a Restoration was to have a sweeping “book” of the new way. He constantly compared what would be done to the work done by the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, in creating a book that would order all of life by being inter-related in all of its parts. So too would government have to form a policy which would have to be inter-related in all of its parts. He was thus accused of wanting to “totalize” the state, but this was absurd to him, only The God had that power.

He walked down the wrought metal stair case from the upper level to the lower level, and greeted the visitor himself. He, like many others, had taken out his wooden door when the old Vizier had placed a door tax. And then installed a gate, when the secret police of the old Vizier had taken advantage of their being no doors to simply enter houses. The old law had said that the agents of the Shahenshah or Caliph could “pass no door uninvited”, but it defined door rather strictly. Hence gates and curtains became the norm among much of the city populace, and a sign, in time, of resistence. It was, in fact, an act banning gates which had precipitated the crisis: and this little man had lead the march to remove the great gate at the government building, saying “what is law is law for all, as the word is word for all, and the God is the God for all.” This had allowed him to gather a much larger march than any more complex issue could have gained, because even ordinary citizens had gates in front of their doors, or on their roof tops between the garden and the opper level of their houses.

He opened the gate, not even checking who it was, and before he could see anything – being late in the day it was now darker at street level, and his eyes were poor anyway – he was pushed to the ground. The man who did so, masked in the old garb of a caravan leader or guard, with a head scarf wrapped around his face – was followed by three others. Within moments man became corpse, and then bloody pulp, as his teeth were knocked out, his bones smashed. They then pulled off his garments, castrated the corpse, and left him there, a growing puddle of blood in his doorway.

He was found not long afterward, and the men who had done it were caught as they tried to weave their way back out of the maze of alley ways. His supporters were not gentle with them.


1 Sun Afterwards,  which explains why it happened

Comet’s may announce the death of kings, but in this time and place of the Caliphate, the death of important people was cause for crackling of telegraph wires. By this measure, his death was not noticed. There was a funeral march in the town, the news noted that someone had been killed and the killers killed. It was only in party circles that the news spread quickly, it was several days before the last letter from his hand arrived in Siamak’s hand, and he he wept as he read it. But he was not a man to let grief get in the way of opportunity, he had long envied the power with the poor that Jalal had had, and sent dispatches to his followers in the capital to try and grab as many of them as was possible.

He also sent word to Malakeh, as even he was calling her by now, to come and talk to her, he wanted to break the news. He also realized that the advice was sound – members had to be in the capital as quickly as possible. He sent out letters to each, and, now that the sun was halfway down the sky sent out a messanger to pick up the papers that were now coming out, and prepared to meet with visitors as they came.

He was quite taken aback when the first of these was the lady herself – he had expected her to take her time, dressing and fussing as preparing, as his own two wives did – and was not prepared for her to simply arrive. More over, he had expected her in finery, and found her garbed only in the two layers of white linen which Jihadeen wore, though a refined eye would note that these were very pure white – indicating that they were very new, or very well cleaned, rather than stained yellow with use.

But he only allowed this to pass his face for an instant, and he was all firmly smiling control.

“I am surprised to see you hear so quickly. I just sent…”

With a wordless gesture, she showed him the scroll she had received, not from him but from Jalal. Or rather, she showed him the seal, not wishing to reveal that it had really been sent by Jalal’s aid de camp, telling her to see Siamak, but not to trust him, and recounting certain unguarded words that Siamak had used.

She effortlessly lowered this into a white leather satchel she had had made, and waited.

“Please, pray continue.”

“Well it is The God’s will. I must tell you that Jalal, peace be upon him, is dead. He was murdered in his own house.”

She nodded, not saying anything. He started to look for a seat, to take the normal position of superior to subordinate, but it felt uncomfortable, instead, he motioned to go up the stairs – spiral, as was the fashion when the house was built – and they were soon seated on the balcony, drinking tea, flavoured with milk and honey.

He as usual, reclined and sprawled across his chair – this a great wicker one with a circular back that went well over his head – and looked at her.

“I must admit, I have been, “ he searched for the right words, “less than trusting of you.”

She began calculating, clearly he was after something. Perhaps to consolidate Jalal’s following into his own?

She barely shrugged and sipped the tea. “Jalal’s death, peace be upon him, is a signal of the dangers we face. I will tell you,” and with this his entire posture changed, from reclining to leaning over towards her. She responded by leaning towards him, and holding her ear very close.

“I believe he was murdered by one of our own, not by the other side.”

She looked at him, it was an admission, but perhaps one to cover his own complicity? She didn’t know.

“You don’t say.”

“I do say. And what is more.” He looked straight at her. “There was a time when I would have rejoiced in it.”

She was tempted to recline backwards, and put distance between them, but she felt that this desire to bring her in was lit like a fire in him, and that he would soon reveal more. Men, they talk either too little, or too much.

“I think that you can consolidate our hold among his followers, if you would go to the city and make one of your grand entrances.”

“And you would…”

“And I would supply the manpower and backing for it.”

She stopped and thought. No, she did not want to be this man’s puppet.

She reclined back. She thought of leaving, but she felt that it was best to let him think that he merely had not offered enough.

“I can offer you a better place in the Hajj.”

This she put on her slightly peevish face and looked at him. “My dear, we do not even know if the Hajj will be anything more than a vent in the government out of which will pour hot and useless air, befouled with odors.”

“But it could be made into more.”

She stood up. “Very interesting, but I must be going. This is too speculative, too distant for me. I need more, concrete and specific things.”

He realized that, for a second straight time, he had let her slip through his fingers. Clearly he was doing something wrong. The desire to control her was planted in his mind, it was becoming as strong as a lust in his body, an urge to set his territory farther out than it was. Somehow, it would be done.

She walked to the door. “Peace be upon you, I must take my leave.” Having gained the admission as an equal, she was leaving with a powerful victory, she walked out, with a slow graceful sidle, her sandaled feet pushing her forwarded with seeming great force. His eyes could not help fall upon her hips, which were round as a wine vessel, and which seemed pressed like globes against the fabric. Mere intellectual desire was kindled also to physical desire. But the he put the fire out as quickly as he could, this woman had already played him too well. She had gone from being an annoyance, to a valuable vassal, to an equal, it would be too humiliating for him to fall down one more step of the ladder and become yet another of her male admirers, enspelled and ensared by her round liquid eyes, honey voice and particular movements. She left, with the maid servant showing her way out. Siamak would bed with his second wife that night, but in his mind, all he could see was the round hips of Malakeh.

The next morning, when he bathed, he reclined in the tub along time, and stared down at his naked body, stirred, still, by something. He sighed and realized that she had, indeed, gotten the better of him, and he would simply have to make the best of it.

Men are not haunted by women that the do possess, only ones that they cannot possess, either because the woman is in the past, or the woman is in the future, or as with her, forever out of the grasp, beckoning like the ripe figs and pears heavy on the tree. And the time when a man can have a woman, enter her, is like a country unto itself in a man's mind, a land a region, hanging misty with magic. For Siamak, she was that mythical country over the next mountains, where could be visible the moon, that body which is said to shine in paradise for the most faithful of the faithful.

Hung ripe the heavy she is, The moon of the holy book, Low above the horizon's turn, shinging bliss upon the devoted In their splendor unclothed before The God, there, in the land of paradise, it is nigh, should you enter it.

He remembered the verse from years before, he did not know the  interviewsurce of it.

Paradise is a dangerous desire, he went back to bed, and took his first wife, and still, the hunger did not leave him, for it was not to enter the gates, but to breath the air itself that he longed for.

- - -

That was a day that was not to be forgotten, it was just before the beginning of the last Ramadan, and she clearly remembered how she had stayed awake through the night, and was preparing to go to bed and sleep straight through daylight. Her serving maid had come running up saying “Umayma! Umayma! You must go and read the news board!”

Now usually a woman such as her self did not go out to read the news on boards posted around the city. Generally there was nothing in the dispatches which could not wait until late afternoon when the newspaper came out, which was greedily devoured over coffee and cakes in the waning hours of the day. Then, the houses of the well to do and wealthy would ring with discussions of it until long into the night. But, if there were such a dispatch, then usually it was enough to send a servant to copy the information down and bring it back.

Very rarely it might be necessary to go the public telegraph room, where there, tapping out at furious speed, was the news service from the government, which, at the rate of 10 words a minute, repeated the same few stories over and over again through the day. The were almost always nothing more than single sentences. She remembered going there only once out of every 100 days, to the clean cold stone floored building, with narrow ceilings supported by heavy brownstone lintels, to see the white garbed men who were writers, runners and hangers about waiting there, taking sips of very black coffee and arguing, or listening for the next new dispatch. Others would go to the prayer room, where another wire would tap out prayers to which the faithful did devotion in silence, the rapping of the code of these prayers had to be poetically correct, but also have a pleasant droning which encouraged devotion.
Going down to the news board, the best of which was outside of this office, would involve pressing close to a throng of people - who even on average days would crowd around the board, and have their best reader read the dispatches as they were assembled and posted, at which point an impromptu market and gambling society met – where people paid bets made on horse races or other events. While gambling was, technically, forbidden, the circumlocution was that the loser was paying the winner for “early news”.

This crowd was filled with workers, and with those who tended shops, and who hawked wares on the streets, it was hardly the place for a lady of any refinement, and her servant knew that. So indeed, it must be urgent.

“Can you tell me what it is that is so important.” “Oh it is grave news, from the capitol, there is rioting.”

“At the Hall of Government itself?”

“I think so, but I could not get close enough to read, and it was not safe for me to go.”
That she go was unthinkable, that she not know was equally unthinkable, and as high as her husband’s status was, it was not so high as to make it possible to clear the entire notice board area. She thought, and then took out pen and paper, wrote to the Imam of the “Palm Quarter” – that wealth section of town that stood on the northern edge of the curved bay of Al-Quareshi – and asked him to deliver a sermon on this news immediately. Of course, he would have to read the news to deliver a sermon on it – and that would allow both she, and the other women, to hear it, without the difficulties posed by the usual public means of dissemination. It was written and sealed in minutes, and then she rang a bell and had her message boy go to the main house, to where her husband undoubtedly was, to ask him to spread the word. He, the man that he was, would not have heard, since he would have been sleeping the night with one of his favorites, who he pretended was his scribe. She sniffed at the thought of taking up with such a woman, but, that was the life she was wed to. The wives of wealthy men did not complain of such things.

Almost immediately she heard the ring at the front, and she, having just had time to wash her face and torso, went down. It was the Imam’s messenger, who told her that it would be indeed done in time for noon prayers. Not even an hour later, she heard Muezzlin, with their high pitched voices, calling out that there would be a sermon on the rioting with the new prayers, and to expect to stay the rest of the day in prayer and conversation.

The scene at noon was a packed mosque – the building itself was a relatively small, but highly domed building, richly decorated in the old style, based on a pentagonical plan. Indeed, Al-Quareshi was one of the oldest cities, site of a holy shrine when the first warriors had reached the Crescent sea after fighting their way north. The inlay of jade and quartz – in intricate designs which were said to have all of the major prayers woven into them – created a vast warm interior, into which came light from circular apertures spaced every few feet, as the sun moved along the day, it would highlight a verse written on the floor, one each hour.

But now the floor was invisible, those who were high members, who paid their tithes in gold, sat close, on their own carpets, those who paid in silver sat on the rows of kneeling benches, and then all others stood. But the crowd was so packed that the high members, as was customary on such occasions, rolled their prayer carpets and sat on them, to create more space.

All eyes were on the raised dais, in the shape of a circle, a the center of the building, there was a single pointed finger of light that cut down through the yellow dust that was everywhere on this world, and just beneath it stood the Imam himself. 

“Oh most holy of holies, we come gathered here in the name of the God, the one God, the only God.”
It was not the ritual call to prayer, but the modern beginning of a service with only a sermon. It would have shocked the more conservative mosques, and it seemed strange to be surrounded in the old style and be among the most liberal of faiths, but it was so. The salat would come after, not before.

He began. “Praise be to the one God, the only God, who by his hand has given us this news, the truth of which cannot be denied or set aside. As it is revealed to us, let us read first the news itself, which comes from our capital, under the peace of God, on this 8 days before the beginning of Ramadan.”
He then took out a small folded paper, and placed a pair of spectacles on his nose. He was not yet an old man, his bushy black beard only just reached his chest, and one could still see the rounded face of youth peaking above it on his cheeks. He was of medium dark skin, and slightly less than medium height. He was also stocky, which being dressed in white trousers of linen and a white turban made him seem even puffier. His movements were not slow, but the were deliberate: he took the moment to straighten his spectacles and began.

“In the name of God, the One God, the only God, this news comes from the office of the Caliphate Bureau of News. In the capital city of Kentaurus yesterday, as dusk broke out, it became necessary to disband the marchers who had clogged the city streets of traffic, and to institute the Vizier’s peace upon the roads.”

The Vizier’s peace was a euphemism for martial law, since the Vizier in Kentaurus had become, by tradition, chosen by the military to be the right hand of the Caliph. In older times it would have been held by a wise man, even an Imam, but not for some time had this been so.
“In so doing, they broke the old law.”

Here there was a gasp, this was from the official news service. It could not make such an admission.
“And the holy people who had gathered to recite the Qu’ran and praise God then marched through the streets, and to the Great Hall of Government. They were met by those intent on breaking the Peace of God. When the musketeers, “ these were the elite troops of the Vizier, who seldom used their fire arms, it implied the other troops had fled, “drew on the holy crowd, it was The God’s will that their weapons should misfire, and did more injury to the soldiers then the assembled Jihadeen.”

“Then the Jihadeen did enter the great hall, and there toppled the faithless from their unrighteous command of power, and have transmitted this message to all of the faithful by the means of the telegraph. Long live the faithful under the peace and guidance of The One God, the True God, the Only God.”

He paused, and waited. At then, from high above in the minaret, there was a cry of Adhan. It was, at first, one lonely voice that sang and spoke the call. But then, from another mosque, the cry was picked up. And then, faintly, from far away, they could hear the horns used in the civic Mosque in the center of the city. For long minutes it was just this, the criers, growing louder as they could hear echoes of one of the 33 mosques of the city joining in, and the horns blowing in the ancient pattern of five long sharp blasts.

And then in the background, but cutting through the ever growing cries, were the bells, the bells of the high tower, above the town, which drew the strikes of Lucifer, and housed the great metal castings, made long ago, and tuned in perfect intervals. They were rung only at moments of great celebration, and great alarm. With the striking of the bells came then the banging, the banging of sticks on stones, of mallets on metal, of any thing which makes a sound struck on another that might be found in a home. The din grew.

Finally added to it was a deep booming sound, of the great dreams, which called the militia to the city’s defense.

“Oh my people,” began the Imam “Peace be Upon You. The day for which we have long prayed is upon us, the defilers and parasites who have drained us of our blood and toil have met their just reward under Shariah. The Caliph’s peace reigns again, and we shall have a great Restoration.”

He then went on at great length, summarizing the rise of the crisis, and how the Vizier had proclaimed that all tax money was to be used to construct one Great Mosque, which would be used only by the few of the inner circle. It was well known that it would be used for the scandalous rites using harim’s and other abominations, away from the eyes of others. But this alone was not enough, for the project which was being diverted from was to build a great channel that would run from the Central Sea and into the Ocean of Sanctuary, from which would be drawn the thaumaturgical fire so needed for the increasing of the mightiness and puissance of the faithful.

For 10 long annae the argument had raged, and finally the vizier, on the wishes of the military, had dissolved the council of advisors who had represented the interests of the three free cities and the 15 provinces. He declared that hence force he should govern only on the advice of the God, the Caliph and the auguries. This enraged those involved in trade, for they were the advisers, and it enraged the working peoples, for they, being of the Old Way, though auguries to be herron – forbidden.
It was three days later when the news came from the telegraph, that the Vizier’s head, along with the heads of his four wives, and his followers, and their wives, were staked outside the city. What was not made public was in a letter she received from her sister, who was well placed in Kentauri, being the second wife of one of the chief tax inspectors.

Many will hear many tales of how this all was accomplished, but I say to you that the story they will tell of Jihadeen will be false, or at best half true the way the colours at dusk are half true. Before there were riots, before the daily calling of prayer, before the vigils and the marching, there was a growing agreement among the government ministers that they could no longer act as the arm of a man so unwise as the Vizier. Truly he had become a puppet of other men, and of the military, which feasted on every drachma, denarus or dinar which flowed in, and whose hand was caught in this interminable war, and for what? For the coal of Al Uwharain? The burning of which would lead, surely, to disaster and fire? And yet I tell you that was their course, to shove aside the water channel, and instead build great fire furnaces, in which could be forced better weapons of steel. But now, after 7 annea, the war has not accomplished as it was promised, and there was talk of conscription.

Finally, with the decision to build the mosque rather than the channel, they threw their hands up. As I am sure you know, the growth of Kentauri itself has been enormous, but so has the explosion of crime and unemployment. Only this project would have employed every strong back in the city, and, once completed, been the foundation for new industry. My husband sees this clearly – the tax revenues are still paid – but in debased coin. The country cries out for industry, for business to hands which is the will of The God, may his peace be upon us.

But the fateful day came when one of the young military men met with the man who is, do not say this, to be the new Vizier. The military man promised to sabotage the powder of the guns, in return for a post higher in the army after the Restoration. For that is what it is to be called, the Caliph is to be restored to power, the old Caliph shall leave in favor of his most liberal and enlightened son, may the light of the God always fall before him, and we shall have – I swear it – a return of the Haj. The great assembly of the nation.

The next Vizier is to be the blonde haired one, Surat is his name, whose grand parents joined the faithful, and whose father rose to be the great governor of the northern provinces. They have there an institution known as the “Thang” which is elected as a council. And this is what Surat will do: we will have a great “Thang” as our Hajj.

The letter then veered off into the details of how this had been accomplished, and how her husband had been involved, and how she would be in trouble for revealing the details.

And that was her memory of the Restoration: being pulled along by a torrent, but feeling an undertow of interest and conspiracy. It was not long there afterward that her husband started spending evenings with her again, and after Ramadan, broached a subject that surprised her. Elections.

- - -

“My Princess.” He never used that term unless he wanted something, “ I wish to talk about something with you.”

The low sun was streaming through the window, there were shooting stars due in the evening, and she was looking forward to them, and not to a discussion with him. It was her own fault, being on the balcony, with him between the door and her. Normally she would have found some household duty that needed to be attended to, and use it as an excuse to set a sharp limit on the conversation.

“What is it, my dearest husband.” She let her honey toned voice flow all over him, and softened the look on her face.

“I am thinking about the Hajj.”

“I haven’t troubled myself with it, I am sure The God will find the solution.”

He looked over the newspaper at her and said, “But my Princess, I have thought about the great glory that a seat there would bring, and how it would immeasurably enrich our reach.” He smiled and leaned back in his wicker chair, and let his legs slide forward so that he was semi-reclined, and yet looking straight at her. His neatly trimmed beard glistened in the sun – he used oil on it and his hair to keep them in place.

“But our son is too young, and if you were to serve, he could not. They are unlikely to repeal the laws against nepotism.” These ancient laws forbade any family to serve two consecutive generations in government or three in the military. The latter was often gotten around by various means, but the former was strictly applied to all but the Caliph, who was, technically, not in government.

“Ah but the law says that no son shall serve whose father or uncles served.”

She stopped, he was planning something, and she wanted to know what. Buying the seat for some weak willed friend of his? She didn’t see the obvious until he sprung it.

“You could stand for election.”

She pulled her head back.

“Oh my husband, how can that be? I cannot even vote.”

He snapped the paper and read to her the qualifications: they required being a citizen, being born into the faith, and owning land. She grasped the implications. The poll tax was restricted to those who could pay in gold, which women could not touch by law, as the “man’s metal”, and “no man may pay for any other”. Thus women could not vote, nor could most men for that matter. But citizenship only required that the tax be paid. And she, having inherited a good deal from her father, who died in war long ago with her as his only surviving child, she paid the tax. This meant, among other things, she could testify in court, sign contracts, and collect debts. All useful things for the wife of a man whose wealth was in trade and who was often away.

“So you are saying, my husband, that you will back me if I stand for this seat?”

He grinned, while he had long since ceased to be attracted to her ample breasts and wide hips, he still appreciated her turn of mind, so much of his fortune was her doing.

“Yes, my princess. Yes.”

- - -

And so it was. The Hajjwas to seat 500, out of a voting population of somewhat less than 500,000. That is, there would be one representative for every 1000 voters. Each of these voters, however, was required to go to 10 others, and vote as the group of 10 had voted. But of course, they got to select the other 10. This set off a scramble to find 10 faithful citizens to hold the gathering with. The bribes flowed like water. She spoke with many, both voters and their caucuses, and endlessly toured the city seeking advantage with each of them.

She had long been a fixture of the liberal reaches of the religious community, having amply endowed charities, and always taken concern for the religious education of the young men. The truth was, she adored the way men could snap to action, it endlessly fascinated her as they seized on decisions. She had also realized that she had tremendous influence over their minds, and as a result, had gathered a following. She held many such in her home, dining, listening to late night poetry recitals and attending services in each of the 33 mosques of the city. By the end, she felt sure that she had secured a place.

However, the province also snaked inwards from the sea, and it was in highlands, at an ancient fortress palace, that the province’s seat of government lay. It was there that results would be reported, and then tallied. Two days before she set out, renting a fine doppled mare to ride in on – her father’s people had been horsemen, where as most of the Farsi speaking people of the upper class were people of the sea, and thus did not traffic with horses. They stopped frequently, and talked with supporters, had they gone directly it was somewhat more than a day from Al-Quareshi to the citadel itself, half a day to climb up the ridge around the city, and then half a day from the peak of the escarpment to the citadel itself.

She set out with two dozen holy men behind her, praying as they went. But the Imam from her mosque ceremonially lead the horse by the reins and the two of them conversed on devotional poetry up into the hills. The trees turned to grasses, of the kind that burn every year, making a place empty of inhabitation, because it is too dangerous, then, over the foothills from the sea, into higher and higher, steeper and steeper mountains.

A few years before, counting here would have been a folly, indeed the Vizier had moved governmental functions back into such places to make them inconvenient – with courts distant from the people who had to attend them, and officers dependent on him for their livelihood, surrounded only by garrisons of military. But now telegraph lines had been run along the central spine and between the main cities. To receive was becoming more common, with glass boxes shrouding the spark from the outside, each one sealed by a Vedic thaumaturgy, who knew the appropriate Homas. The government, of course, maintained a monopoly on sending, and the two together formed a powerful duopoly. But the demand for that stream of news from the wider world, even if very slow – a skilled listener could pick up 30 words a minute – excited too many, especially the young, who had taken to creating singing styles that mimicked the rap a tap rap of the telegraph key.

This made it possible to count the ballots quickly, since the totals would be sent in by wire. It shrank the country to a few minutes – at least, in the core where over three quarters of the population lived. Some 350 of the members of the Hajj would be known by nightfall of the day after the elections.
They then crested a sharp escarpment, and saw before them the valley which had been the source of so many poets admiration.

It is the river of life, fixed in waves of green, This valley which, with its warm wet earth, Is as ripe as when the baby buries his head Encompassing in his mother’s bossom.

The Imam smiled as he recited this, from one of the great love poems, which, of course, ended tragically. She looked back at him and asked.

“Tell me, when did you have a chance to study such work.”

“All words belong to the God, and therefore none are forbidden to my eyes. Though my tongue would sear if I spake them without purpose.”

“And what was your purpose here?”

He turned to valley.

“We have forgotten life – this life – in our pursuit of gold and silver, and I feel that this moment the people cry to be returned to that great beginning, where they could suckle at life, rather than scratch for gold. You must change this in the Hajj, when you sit there, as oyu must make sure that charity is remembered.”

“The Hajj will be more a place of talking than doing.”

He shook his head.

I have seen the rocks that tumble from their perches, Though long they sat to regard the sun and stars, And each persuades three others, Until the rock torrent roars.

“Once there is a Hajj, it will be the moving boulder, the gathering of the will of the people.”
“How can you say this knowing that most cannot vote.”

“Ah my dear child remember, it is not whether you can vote, but whether you can be heard, that matters. We did not vote for The God, but he hears us. Many choose Lucifer, bt he does not hear them.”

She nodded, and the topic turned to the patterns of tapestries which were being woven, she making the analogy that it was more important to be able to live with what you chose. But her mind wandered back to being heard. She had not been heard in so long within her own four walls.

- - -

She was taken to the grand citadel of government, which rose up out of the rock, and out of that a spire, and on that the great metal thamaturgical pole which drew down the wrath of Lucifer so that the rest of the area would be spared. Sitting, as it did, on a high outcropping of rock, it made an imposing presence, surrounded by a clutter of lower buildings and a rock wall. The city was freshly painted, and despite having less than ten thousand inhabitants, gleamed with prosperity.

She had to climb a seemingly endless series of steps up the side of the valley, which rose almost 300 feet sheer from the floor, and then wait at the gate with the others who were to be admitted. Once inside, however, it was very different, there were small garden plots on every roof, boxes of flowers from every sun facing window and balcony. The white sheer draps that were in every window rustled with the light morning breeze, and the hot exertion was rapidly turned to cool relief.

Once there she was taken to the new room, it was entirely of stone, granite black on the floor and granite white on the walls and ceiling, though inlaid floor, walls and ceiling, with verses from the Qu’ran. In middle of the room was a circlular table of stone, and around this a circular bench, on which was placed a series of simple cushions. On the table, at regular intervals were glass oblong boxes, which contained an intricate apparatus, with many wheels, which had, emerging from one slot, a thin tape of paper. At each cushion was a woman or man who read the code off the slot and transcribed it.

Now, one must realize that “parties” had been forbidden in the election, which meant, in effect, there were two parties, the party of the new Vizier, which had organized using telegraph and was popular among the tradesman and craftsman, and the military party, which had spread its word through the reactionary mosques, and through the “old boy” network of those who had long done business with the previous government. Finally election authorities gave into the reality, and had each party simply send their nominating list, so that the names could be encoded, and thus save valuable telegraph time.

It was the morning after the election, and , almost at first light, one of the machines began to chug, the heavy thump thump thump was quite unlike the delicate taps she had heard before, when she realized that, of course, since they were punching paper, they would use much heavier apparatus. The reader called out numbers as he wrote them down, and then handed the paper to a runner, who took the paper out of this room, and out on to a dias that was outside, on which had been erected a huge blackboard, on which figures for seats in the province – some 13 – were tallied. Since there had been no time to create districts, it would be 6 at large seats for the city, and 7 for the rest of the province. This favored the agricultural areas heavily, since more than half of the province was in the city, but only slightly if one strictly counted potential voters.

She felt her heart leap, she had the delicious uncertainty of the process, and, instead of spending time on the board, she stayed sitting in the telegraph room itself, keeping a running tally of her votes, and those of her nearest competitors. Her husband, she knew, was out among the people in the blackboarded area, telling them about what wonderful things he was going to do.

She knew all about them, because he had been giving her his wish list, of reductions in taxes for his kind of business, of an end to the recision of debts for the poor, of a whole host of measures to make sure that none where idle and that the country was put in the hands of those who had the most stake in its success. He believed in an ownership society to the core.

She had the papers in her small thin folio, made of two rectangles of leather stitched together, but she could not read them, there was too much of a torrent coming in. In the beginning of the day, the reports were from the city’s government district, where the old bureaucracy lived, and the businesses that did business with them – civic works and the like - which had gone overwhelmingly for the old candidates, in fact, there was only 2 votes for anything other than the party which was lead by the nephew of the former Vizier. And those were for the Da’wa party, a religious party that was closely associated with them. 2 out of 2000! How to make that up? Impossible.

But on going over the numbers she realized that most of these votes had gone for the two most powerful members of that party in the city, the mayor’s brother, and the nephew of the owner of the ship yard. So while they had overwhelming numbers, they had decided that they really just wanted to be sure they had members of the Hajj. She raised her eyebrow, she had not thought that there would be such careful coordination of votes. She noted the idea down, but could not finish it.

By now, there was a wave of tapping, numbers were coming in constantly, and then being sent out. Occasionally a result would be sent back into the sending room, where confirmation would be asked for. She found herself badly falling behind in the totals, and by noon she had written off her dream as a wistful moment of imagination.

She went outside, and as women were allowed, drank think tea from a small porcelin cup that she bought from a street seller. She was, of course, surrounded by her entourage. Her husband came bustling up. His face was nearly bursting with anger.

“I told you how poorly you were handling this!”

She pulled her face in, and closed any crack of what she felt to the outside world, adopting that face of the impassive long suffering wife.

"It should have been the way I planned it. Now look, all my money wasted."

"It was mostly my money."

"And all my work gone for nothing, and why, because you wanted to actually hold the caucuses, rather than just finding 10 signatures that were needed to certify the vote."

Her insistence was part of her plan - it drew in many of the supporters of the other side, who came to try and argue the voter to their direction. Of course they failed, because the lists had been carefully selected to have 6 firm supporters for each group of 10, but it meant that their were two to four names on every single one of her votes, that were supporters of others. This drained away available taxpayers, and helped slow her opponents efforts. She had conceived of this plan her self, and its careful execution seemed to her a master stroke. She was wondering where all her votes were, her own running tally showed that less than half the expected votes had been cast in the city.

"And now look," his voice snapped her back to the present moment. "look at this." he showed her his scrawled figures. They were very bad for her.

It was at this moment that one of the young men who was part of her entourage - whose study of poetry she had subsidized and encouraged - tapped her on the shoulder.

"The imam has gotten a message from the city."

The husband subsided in his venting, and they scurried back inside the Great Room, and the husband saw his wife exchange a few whispers with the Imam, and then go off. He did not like much the look of satisfaction on her face.

Once away from the milling conversations that clustered in twos and threes, discussing each turn of the numbers from across the center of the Caliphate, she conferred with the Imam, he, apparently, had gotten a carrier pigeon message: namely that many votes were being held up in court, because the caucus signatures were from women, and from men who it was claimed had had their taxes paid by others. The sending telegraph in the city had been under the watchful eye of a very much old party man, and therefore the news had not gotten to them until now. She merely smiled, “I have someone already to take care of that, we were expecting problems. But just as my standing for office is legal, so are the women in the caucuses, it just said ‘tax payer’, and there are many women who pay taxes in dirhams of silver.”

At this moment the young poet , Ali Ibn Masuk by name, broke in with a whisper to her ear, he had a plan to make better show the next day, to make sure that what the judge would undoubtedly say should be counted, would be counted. She then whispered to the Imam, and said he would organize it. Her plan was to march back into the city leading as many of her followers as possible, riding on the horse. There was a small shrine just away from the escarpment’s lip, she would have the procession gather there, it was about 6 hours of a milling gait such as a march would have, and that would be about right – the court would open its doors at the moment of dawn, and the judgment would have to be done quickly, since by law no suit could take more than one day to decide, if it involved matters of citizenship. They would arrive at, or soon after, word arrived. The court would surely decide after the noon prayer, and transmit the decision early in the afternoon, the man of the law who was in her employ had assured her that this court would work with the regularity of a clock.

At sunset, she and Ali slipped out of the main citadel, and since this was the counting, the gates had been left open, by decree, to allow people to come and go with the news. The stepped down the steps, having sent a runner forward to ready the horse, there were people walking up and down the steps, and the two were wholly unremarkable. But when they reached the bottom of the valley, where the winding River Eshta cut through, there was a bridge, but off to the side of the bridge was a thin road, which went off into the trees and darkness. The light from the sky was barely enough to navigate the road, let alone the path, but when reaching the bridge she felt fatigued, and asked to sit down. He, knowing that the path lead to a small enclosed garden shrine – built with a medium wall and benches along the path to it, suggested they go slightly into the darkened path, which seemed as a great warm cave, with a breath of slight breeze coming from it.

She, tentatively, agreed, feeling that surely no harm would come to her. And they reached the first bench, as high as her knees were only, and lowered themselves on it. She leaned into him, and huddled closer in the darkness, Ali clearly ungainly so close to a woman, shaking. She realized that he felt for her. It had not crossed her mind that he would do so, she was not so young, and he was barely more than a boy, with only the faintest outline of the beard. But she knew the signs, the warming of his skin, the warming of hers next to it, the scent of his sweat growing muskier, the way he shifted position. Her heart raced at how forbidden it was, just beyond the walls of a shrine, built to love so many annae before. He not knowing where the boundaries of her own forbidden walls were, though they would have been as invisible to him by day as by night.

He, trying to reduce the tension he felt, recited one of his short poems:

Gracefully the willows bend under wind to touch the water, Knowing that they cannot drink with eager bough, Still the trees reach and bow like beggars The crowns like their roots a thirst for moisture.
He had not thought he meant anything in particular by the words, but there, in the darkness, she could feel his heart race after he said them, realizing what was under his thoughts.

“Let us walk a bit further in, I think I see a pool and I would like to drink.”

There was indeed a pool, and them moved very slowly, she leaning on him for support, or so it seemed. They reached the pool and the benches by it. And sat again, this time embracing. It was her turn to recite, this time an old verse which she learned in those blossoming days of her youth:
The wild reeds have no need of planting, Nor of reaping, nor of sowing, nor of agriculture, Taking only the water and the light, And leaving only rustling in the night.

She could feel his muscles taut next to her, and easily encouraged his hands to caress her. Finally feeling his eager lips upon her shoulder. In the dark, and covered, he could not see how gravity had worked upon her body, and in that darkness she was as young to his imagination could allow. It was she, not he, who was feasting on an eager virgin, whose hands reached for her thighs. Soon they were but a tangle of arms and legs, she gently teaching him to kiss even as he thrusted, to move slowly and then quickly, and to carry his own weight on his hands, but leave enough for pleasurable pressure on her chest.

And when he was spent, she took off her overdress, and lifted her underdress and waded into the pool to bathe her self enough, so that she would be ready to face the day. The napped for a few hours. She changed clothes into the light white linen robes of a penitent, and woke him, they walked the rest up the escarpment, and to the shrine. They hurried somewhat, so that the two hours they had lost would not be missed, since no one knew exactly when they had left, thus no one would suspect what had transpired between them.

There, just off the main road, and hidden by carefully shaped hedges, was the new shrine to Wakeem I, which was built of white marble with a pointed dome which stood on columns of the Hellenic style, with grooves cut in them and an ornate capital order. The floor of it was azure stone with a picture of a running deer, having been built after the Great Schism, when the new way allowed depiction of animals and men again. She had stood on the center of it, and watched as, at first in ones and twos, and then in threes and more, her supporters had gathered.

Dawn struck the top of the shrine like a note from a gong– it illuminated a round ball atop the point of the dome, turning it in an instant to a lusterous orange gold. Already there were 200 gathered, already more could be seen traversing the back and forth path up from the terraces below – which could be entered from the main road or from the shrine – and coming in somewhat greater numbers along the more direct route to the shrine. The sun crept down, illuminating seven terraces in turn, none of them very large, but each covered with an intricate geometric network of flowers and other exotic plants, and trellised with stone polls and metal rods.

By just after dawn, there were almost 500, and she, without a word, simply began to walk, the poet was sent ahead, both to call the way, and, she felt, to make sure he would not by any word or glance betray anything. From the escarpment crest to citadel it was 6 Ishtari hours at a slow walk, but she found her supporters were not slow and solemn, but wanted a faster walk. She accommodated them, and had the man leading her horse to pick up the pace, soon the throng was reaching towards the steps of the citadel, and it had only grown, from where she did not know, but finally she saw that many people who had been leaving the citadel, turned around and came back with them. They felt that this was their moment, that now, they were the Jihadeen.

The poet came back to her and whispered that the Imam had been spreading the story of how her votes were being denied and “a vote is a witness to The God, and therefore denying it is to deny the God from whence it came and to whom it is devoted.” He had been speaking at the street corner, waving a blank ballot, which did indeed bear the words “The right from the hands of The God, and returns to the Ear of the God.” Which was a standard invocation on almost every contract.

By the time they reached the gate, she, not seeming to sweat even though she had been walking, then riding, for some time, almost glowed as she sat up straight and said

“It is the people of Al-Quareshi come, to see that the God’s will is done.”

The guard of the gate merely nodded, he did not seem in the least reluctant to let them passed, and he knelt for them, The people in the streets lowered themselves as she passed, and there were flowers being thrown from the windows. None of this, had been planned.

At the citadel itself there was a great tumult and chanting, and banging of drums. The court had decided, not in hours, but in minutes, hours before the votes had started to be tallied, and the results were piling up to a lopsided ratio for the followers of the New Vizier. She was not the first of her party’s candidates, but her showing was more than respectable. When all was counted, 5 of the 6 candidates from the city were to be of the new, and only one of the old – the Mayor himself.

Then, finally, she saw her husband, clenching and unclenching his fists, furious at being out of the center of power, and having had nothing to do with this coup. He none the less bustled up to her, but before he could mouth even the simplest of pleasantries, she looked down at him from her horse, and said:

“I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you. As it is in the old law, let me go back as I came, with only dowry and my name.”

- - - 

Malakeh left Siamak with distaste in her mouth, she felt it was he who was too small for her, and she disliked the perpetual sense that he thought she was a pawn. She felt he was too small for her, because he was, distinctly, a minor player, one who was good at manipulating and pushing, but who was out of his depth in his grasping for higher power. She realized that it he might be useful, but was not yet, entirely, sure how. He was, however, weakening, she could feel that.

But her thoughts turned to other things, not least of which was how to make use of his suggestion of making a grand entrance into the city of Kentaurus. She had a vision of landing in the port of Haram, walking through the Morerla, gathering more and more people to her, and then taking this throng over the hills and into the “inner city”, that rill between the slab hills that housed the government and the watchworks of the human cogs that made it up.

She could see it in her minds eye, and as she went back to her small home – once her second “city” house, now merely, “hers”, she allowed it to embellish itself in her mind as a visualization. Wouldn’t that be grand. Now the question was how to pull it off. An idea struck her. She reached her home and dashed off a quick note, and handed it to a messenger.

By late in the day she was doing the customary reading of news, and assembled around her were her close circle of advisors: Imam Bashir ibn Fakih, a broad man, who had clearly lost weight from exertions, whose wide bespectacled face radiated openness and kindness, the young poet Ali Ibn Masuk, who had come to write more and more of her words, or rather, as he called it “crafted” her ideas into words, a phrase she liked, also there was Samir al-Saqr, who immediately set himself off as a man of action next to two men of words. Where as Bashir was mature, filled out and soft, and Ali was thin and just more than a boy, Samir al-Saqr’s features seemed carved from stone, and impassive. He was her expert in what he called “security”, and organized a growing body of young men who had taken up marching behind her, some armed with clubs. It had been necessary, when the mayor had tried to threaten many into silence with the police. Finally there was Navid Shaheen, his distant cousin, who looked neither like a man of words, nor a hardened man of combat, but instead between them. He was “the money”, the man who had stepped into the void that her husband had left among her backers, by providing advice and counsel, as well as a sharp mind. The two cousins, on whose practical advice she had come to rely. Many years before she had thought of Navid as merely, “the man who recommended my lawyer to me”, but found out over time that he was well acquainted, and often knew the right person for the job.

These four men shared differing degrees and kinds of devotion for her. For Imam Bashir, it was a long civic association, helping the poor, providing religious instruction, and being, in general, among that group of people who are the ties that bind a community together. For Samir, it was clear that he saw this as the channel through which flowed a way to a more reasonable future, not rational, for his business did not thrive on rationality – but instead that the way of the present simply did not work. He was a smooth man, who shaved his face smooth, and he liked a world that moved that same way. He regarded the present with contempt, in that way that men who know their business do about men who do not. For Navid it was as an intellectual equal, as an opening of new horizons. He had known everyone, but she excited him by making the wheels turn. Often he knew all the people who were needed for some action, but had never thought to coordinate them. It also amazed him how much was done in her name without her asking, merely by her suggesting a direction, others followed along it.

And to some extent, it was the last of the four who was responsible – for Ali Ibn Masuk’s devotion was even simpler, it was passion, physical, spiritual and intellectual passion. She had not intended to let this passion become an affair, and in her mind it had not – they had coupled once near a garden shrine, and she had one other time drawn his body into her, this time in her own bedroom, and without any disguise of night or clothing, she had expected him to react differently, but it was clear his attraction for her was undiminished by seeing her, past the prime of her beauty, in the early morning light of dawn. Dawn which had flooded her curves as it floods the valleys, highlighting them in shapes which exist, only for a moment.

She looked at these four, with there differing expressions, having just read the letter which had told her of Jalal’s death, and recounted her conversation with Siamak.

It was Samir who spoke first, he often spoke first. “It would seem that Siamak has forgotten the important idea, this is to restore the land to glory, not to glorify individuals. I would advise having nothing to do with his plan to make you a priest-queen. We are already running tremendous risks to protect you as it is.” He then set his thin mouth very hard.

At which point his cousin embraced him, as his muscles rippling, not in tense worry, but with optimism. “Cousin, cousin! Of course she can be anything the people need, and they need new heroes, I am as good a friend of Siamak as any here, perhaps I can talk to him, bring him back in.”

The Imam Bashir commented dryly, “That is the problem, it is he who wants to bring her in, not aware that the role he wanted, of great spokesman, is not available to him. He had hoped, I think to mold the Hajj to his will.”

Ali almost said something, but stopped himself, cleared his throat with that nervous tremble he often had, as far and away the youngest. “I say we sweep him aside, yes, aside, it will be a poem of movement, to hold a vast rally here, and show him what winds are blowing now.” Samir was shaking his head, but it was Navid who replied. “We have the city, Siamak will come along with us, we have the provinces, the walks out into the country side that Malakeh has been doing, the speeches that you have been writing have already done that work. We need something larger, marches and Jihadeen grow tired quickly. I would suggest that, as fascinating as putting this town under our complete control might be, that Malakeh has larger work to do, and Bashir and I should stay here to manage the affairs of the town. It is urgent she be to Kentaurus, Jalal was more influential than people imagine.”

Malakeh had relaxed and watched the men battle for her attention and judgment, while, emotionally, the idea that Ali had was appealing, the execution of it might be difficult, even dangerous. And getting to the capital was where the power was.

The conversation went on for sometime, with no resolution, but an agreement that getting to Kentaurus was of primary importance. She dismissed all of them and went upstairs getting to bed just in the darkness. She looked to the doorway to the balcony, and waited. It had been arranged for Ali to return, she could feel her pulse in her finger tips.

Then, not long afterward, she heard two sets of footsteps leading up the stairs, the first was light, and she knew it to be her maid servant’s the second had that delicate heaviness of a young man who is more at home behind a desk than walking up stairs in the middle of the darkness. She pondered, for a moment, what to do. On one hand, she trembled in expectation, this part of her wanted to remain still, have him come to the bed, and peel off her cloths. Another part of her wanted to prevent anything from happening, break off whatever, clearly, had been started – an admission she only just made to herself – and a third part wanted him to come, and find her in the nude, willing and drawing him into her, with her hands on him, guiding him. So, two votes to one, she did not peel off her clothes, but she stayed there, waiting. She had intended to draw her self up, and be seated against the pillows that would establish distance, but she found she could not move as she heard the footsteps against the floor, softly, with sandelled feet touching the marble, and then there was a distinct pause, and the next foot fall was not with sandels, but bare. Then there was another, and another, far less awkward.

She could see out of the corner of her eye a few stars to the south, through the doorway to the balcony, there were shooting stars, they came one at a time, in a kind of rhythmic wave. She turned to watch them, and saw his thin frame fill the light with a darkness, a darkness that implied both menace and heat, for she could feel, even from this distance the heat from his skin – or was it her own?

He said nothing, she opened her mouth to start a conversation, but it was dry, there wasn’t even a croak. She could feel hands moving up and down her thighs and then sliding up to remove her gown – she found herself merely lifting her arms upward and allowing it to continue, as those hands slid up her sides, along those same arms, and over her hands.

She was breathing far more heavily than she had first expected or noticed. Finally, he spoke.

“And then he came to undiscovered lands, and felt a warm wind that was from a new sea, Touching it to his lips he named it holy, Rememberance was made that moment. That every lingered onward”
It was from an epic poem of the conquests in the early years of the Faithful on Ishtar, but he did not have metallic combat, nor dry journey on his lips, but spoke with pauses as a pilgrim might, having finished the devotion, and begun to put to his mouth what he beseeches the God for.

She waited there in the darkness, hearing only her own sharp exhales and long in hales, his own breath almost held as he waited, waited, for some sign, she could feel his gaze on him, though it was quite dark. And then his hands moved under her back and down to her hips, and with a strength she had not realized they possessed she found herself being rolled over, onto her chest, her breasts pressed against the smooth bedding, her head raised by the pillows – staring out into the meager light that came from the western window.

Before she had felt almost maternal in their lovemaking, as if she was embracing him, and enfolding him into the softness that was her body, which had felt the passing of almost 6 trisdekads, well into what might be called “middle age”. But this time was different, she had been more ready than could be resisted, and this time, she felt him move through her, as if his life was passing through her, she felt, for the first time, taken. Penetrated. Her vision began to dance and blur, until all was merely the feel of his thrust over her hips, which rolled with it, and that sensation which cannot be described in words on this side of paradise. At first she arched her neck away from the bed, but then turned it to the side, her cheek resting on the pillow, her hair fallen about her face, her breath captured by the pillow and reflected back so that she could feel it as starkly as anything else, the sensations from her body each, in turn tingling with the flow of blood.

This went on, her body rocking like the waves that reach the beach in a gentle wind, each one coming after the next. She fell asleep after he had subsided, and sobbed. Sobbed because she had been taken, sobbed because she knew it must end, that she could not have this, sobbed because she had not felt this way in so long.

When she awoke later, it was already that greying time that says that dawn is to arrive, when slowly the dimmer stars leave, and there is a colour to the sky that is not merely blue, but has gained the almost impossibly frail taint of red. She hated awakening alone, and this precipitated in her the desire to end the affair, because she did not want to awake alone. But she sat up, hugged her favorite pillow to her, and cried dry tears.

This, however, did not last long, her feet were on her slippers on the floor, and she drew some warmish water down from the roof, where she had, of course, a water heater powered by the sun. She bathed, a thorough, but not luxurious bath, she did not want to luxuriate in this feeling, but instead, wanted to wash it off of her, like a place one has visited, only to have been there, and then gone home. The light was filling her bedroom, the tub being in it, and with each moment she regained her composure and resolve.

Malakeh was not, by nature, manipulative, but few women, and only a few more men, can resist the temptation to match make. After all, the easiest way to put down a candy is to hand it to a child, the easiest way to put him out of reach, was to find a suitable match for him. She could then see the results, without the difficulties intervening, which, while not as satisfying were enough. She would, she assumed find another outlet for her energies. “And after all,” she reminded herself stiffly, “it is not as if I am going to have endless time to feed my desires.”

She dressed with her maid servant, she noted that one one advantage of this mania for white was that it simplified one step of the process. She placed a white band to hold up her hair, which left the crown of it flowing free and down to her shoulders, had her maid servant lace up a pair of sandals in the Latin style that went all the way up her to the top of her calf, and then was ready to face the day.

By the time she had gotten downstairs, she already had her first visitor, it was Siamak’s daughter, Parvenah. Who was, like her name, delicate. She instantaneously knew that this was personal, and not political.

The girl was on the verge of tears, and out of deference, Malakeh dismissed her hand maid. She was still of sylphan youth, and garbed in a long white dress sashed at the waste. In it was a small knife, as many of the whites, particularly the young ones had started to do, because it had “been that way in the old days”. Malakeh noted this only briefly, but instead swept up to her and embraced her.

“Now tell your aunt, what is the matter.”

With only a short sharp drawing of breath in as preamble. “Oh you must not repeat this, but it is my father, he stormed about last night, and I heard the most desperate sounds coming from upstairs this morning. It was terrible. He has always been,” - Malakeh unconsciously added “prone to fits” for that is what she had heard – “taken by moods, but now it is much worse than ever before. I have never seen him like this.”

Malakeh’s thoughts condensed on a clear road. It was obvious that Siamak needed a rest, that she needed to go to Kentaurus, but after having had a large send off in grand style, and that Ali needed to meet Parvenah. All could be solved, by just keeping her wits about her.

“Dear, dear. Let met tell you that all will be resolved. Your wise uncle Navid is going to help work things out.” She pulled the girl back from her, “But I shouldn’t call him that, because you are no longer the young girl I met when I first encountered your father.”

She sniffed only a little and looked. Malakeh cleared her teardrops, and began. “Would you stay with me for a snack?” And before Parvaneh could answer, she had reached out, rung the bell, and was guiding her over to the small corner table, made of woven reeds with a richly died table cloth. As they were seated, there was a ringing of the bell from the outside, and Malakeh went to answer it, on the way by directing her handmaid to get fruit and draw off some rice milk for Parvaneh.

She reached the door, and there, armed with bundles of paper wrapped haphazardly in leather folios, was her “breakfast cabinet”, including this time, her solicitor, and two of the other members of the Al-Quareshi Hajj deligation. She had two more tables rolled out, and soon a boisterous meeting was going on. She made a point of sitting Ali next to Parvaneh, and began.

“I have made some decisions since last night.” Ali blanched guiltily, but no one else was looking at him “And my first is that I am going to take your advice.”

Navid interjected: “About going to Kentaurus?”

“Yes, that and Ali’s advice to have something visible. I shall make my leave taking on foot, and make it an event, with speeches and a vigil. We must leave the city with a sense of destiny. Ali, I need to craft some words for me, and could you find someone to help you with providing that ‘touch of lightness’ as you call it? I shall be busy.” Ali nodded, and Parvaneh leaned over and whispered something to him, but her attention had turned elsewhere.

“I shall let all of you make the arrangements, and I will follow them to the letter. Let me speak to Navid.”

The group began discussing how to do this, and it was swelled by two of Imam Bashir’s people arriving with messages, and one stayed to help organize the march.

When she had gotten Navid alone, she looked at him. “I have heard from the daughter that Siamak is having fits. We should go over and see him.”

On this they agreed, and went out, leaving Bashir in nominal charge of affairs.


When the arrived at Siamak’s house, the found some shattered jars in the street and there was a terrible racket going on, Navid flagged down a messenger and sent him after Samir, meanwhile they knocked on the door, a tearful older wife looked out at them and closed the portal again, but would not open the door itself. They waited, there was more calling. They knew at some point the watch would be summoned, and then there would be trouble, the badly mauled old guard of the town was looking for such an indiscretion, Navid waited for the sounds to start up again, knocked, this time holding up a gold coin to the portal. This time the servant answered and opened the door. Before the old wife could do anything, they had slipped inside.

There they saw the lower level room in a frightful mess, with shattered ceramic and porcelain everywhere. The older wife was screaming at the younger wife, and both were cleaning the floor, while the two handmaids were busy washing blood out of bedsheets. Nothing large was broken. Navid made a semicircular gesture with his hands as a way of asking “where is he?” and the handmaid – who he knew to have been trained in the “silent speech” pointed upstairs.

They mounted the spiral stairs, and when the reached the bed room the sight that greeted them as Siamak, viciously slashing his papers, his normally well groomed hair in a terrible tangle. There was the distinct reek of coupling in the air, and he, himself, was naked and stank of sweat. His lean muscles were stretched tight, at first he did not notice them.

“Stay away!” It was a voice that, if it were not rabidly close to a shriek might have been commanding, once. “You’ve come to ruin me! I can tell! With your foul spells and evil designs. Get out.”

Navid deflected away a weakly thrown ball of paper. “We come in peace, please be calm brother Siamak.”

“You are,” and at this point he ripped apart a book with a madman’s strength “taking everything away from me! When I began here there was nothing! Nothing!” He stomped on some papers and was looking around the room, though for what they did not know.

“They tortured me, they branded me.” Malakeh’s eyes searched his skin and saw a pentacle brand on his left buttock.

“And now you want to take everything away from me!” He stopped stomping, and turned to face them, his eyes blazing. It was at this moment that he clutched at his heart, and stiffened, in an instant, he crumpled to the ground, and was gasping for air. Navid did not know medicine, they called down, it was a few more minutes before Samir arrives, who immediately pulled out some foul smelling liquid, and this seemed to resucitate Siamak for a moment. But only just, soon he was struggling again, and Samir and Navid managed to get him to the bed. He convulsed again, and then lay still, breathing only with the shallowest of breaths. It was all they could do to call a doctor, and then wait.

Siamak would hover near death for three days.

- - -

Late in the afternoon of the second day after Siamak was stricken, a rich lusterous afternoon, where light was deflected off of the late day haze, that no sea breeze had cleared away, a lazy, indeed hot afternoon, Navid was arrested, and taken to the gaol. The place for those accused of religious crimes, where such ancient rites and customs as had under the secular government were not recognized. It was a sign that the authorities were going to try and crack down.

It was nearing sunset that Malakeh received this news, she was on her west balcony, the shadow of the next building having reached the top of her table. She was discussing what to be done next with Ali and Bashir, when the messenger came, dropped off the note and departed. She read it quickly and handed it, by two fingers to Bashir, whose face reached a more somber tone. Ali then read it and looked at it in puzzlement.

“It says the charge is adultery, but it does not say who, merely a ‘protected person’”.

Bashir: “That means a member of the government.”

“With whom he is frequently seen.”

Malakeh, “It means me. I must go to see his wife immediately. I can’t let her be alone and have her wondering.”

With this she she dismissed them, and got her self ready to go out. She stopped by Siamak's house, and stroked his cheek and damped a cloth and wiped clean the forehead, and then left to Navid's house.

It was after dusk when she was on the balcony of Navid’s wife, she had just gotten there when the evening meteor shower began. The rain of them grew stronger and stronger, it was, in fact, the peak down of this shower, marked on the calendar as “al-Adara”, for its pure white streaks. There were, by this point a dozen each minute, she sat at the table across from Haifa, Navid’s wife, the two were engaging in that sort of close conversation that two women who have known each other for a long time. It turned out that Haifa had not the slightest doubts about Navid’s faithfulness, and as well she should not, slender and lovely, with bright eyes, a man would have to be a fool not to remain loyal to her. And Navid was not a fool. She was not worried, but instead glowed with faith that her husband would find some way through. She was to visit him tomorrow, and had already bribed the guards to treat him well. Navid’s personal forturne, thought Malakeh, gave her a certain freedom of action that was to be envied, and which Malakeh had only recently begun to feel herself.

They stayed and watched as the shower died down, trailing off into the night. Having mostly slept the night before, Malakeh had intended to stay away all of this night, and sleep only enough to be ready for the next day’s gathering at the mosque which Bashir was in charge of, it was a prepatory meeting for the send off, where she would walk out of town to the port on the southern side of the peninsula, Al-Quareshi’s sister city as it were, on the Ocean Haram. She would walk that old road, with, what was hoped, would be a growing band. Mosques were told to send people, and the idea of Ali was to have them throw flower petals, since there would be a festival of roses two days before, and therefore there would be rose petals in abundance. It was an image that pleased her.

She talked about this with Haifa, and was pleased at the warm response, it was at this point there was heavy pounding on the door below. The leaned over the balcony – one slender almost willowy woman, and one shorter, but fuller one, and tried to see what was going on, all that they saw was a group of men, probably armed, all wearing some dark coloured clothing. It was hard to tell what in this light. But it was clear that their intentions were not friendly. Haifa almost instantly began calling out “Thief! Thief! Thief!” And there were heads popping from the windows up and down the street.

A rough voice cried back: “We are here to arrest you Haifa Shaheen! You conspired with your husbad to prostitute young girls and boys! We have witnesses who will swear to it.”

Haifa was never one to let an accusation go uncontested. And in a surprisingly loud voice for such a slender woman, she let forth a high pitched and equally rough rejoinder.

“Lies, lies, lies. You were sent by the prince of lies.”

The voice below came back. “You will regret that, to which we now add blasphemy against the Talibeen.” This was the once unspoken word for the religious police, now openly spoken in the last few days only.

There was more bashing against the door. Haifa motioned quietly to Malakeh and lead her by the hand to the main upstairs room, and then not, as Malakeh had expected, up to the roof tops to try and make an escape, but to a panel on the wall, which turned after she unlocked it, and down a very narrow set of stone steps. Haifa went down first, and Malakeh followed, closing the door and hearing the click of the latch. It was at this point that Malakeh realized she had not seen any servants, nor either of their two sons in her visit. Clearly, this turn of events, if not expected, was at least prepared for.

The reached down into the dark, and there was an increasingly dank odor of water. What was not present was the almost universal garlic smell of Ishtar. Finally the reached a slipperly landing, where there was both a coolness and a dampness that suggested they were in one of the under canals of Al-Quareshi.

“What now.”

“We get in the small boat and let the current take us out.” At this point something happened which shocked Malakeh: Haifa lit something, and then a moment later had lit a latern, whose cool yellow and blue light made visibility possible. Open fire is Herron, forbidden, without special rites.

“It is safe down here. But we will have to put it out before we go far.”

Malakeh spent a few moments to look, She was in a hemispherical tunnel, whose ancient stones fit together with great precision. She then noticed, under the algae, that there were pictures and designs, made of small tiles of ceramic, in a style which was clearly not from the faithful. Indeed, it was not of the Vedic kingdom, nor even of the Latin or Hellenic people, since these tiles were hexagons, and not squares, and they were not of the realism of the Hellenes, instead the shapes were fantastical, with winged griffons, women with animal heads copulating with men that were grotesques of man and beast. There were suggestions of waves, as long serpent like creatures, she had heard them called “wharls” with human heads wrapped their long bodies around women who were swimming, and whose tails suggestively poked between the loins of their victims. It was, in all, a shocking display. It was also clear that these designs were very, very, very old, from long before, when people worshiped older gods that represented the old angry forces of the world.

She shuddered from the cold as well as the images. Up above it must be near midnight, with half the city still awake, even in the darkness. Below, hear, she felt something stirring, but it must be imagination. Haifa extinguished the light, and Malakeh was grateful to be relieved of the images, though now they were in her imagination, and she thought she saw curling shapes in the darkness. Haifa used a pole to keep them in the middle, and indeed the current was soon pushing them along. The time below stretched out, as she almost felt sands of time slipping one by one away. Until finally there was a gloom of light ahead. It grew larger, and larger and larger. Malakeh finally breathed in great relief, when above was sky and star again, and the dome of heavan, whose blue illumination seemed almost unbearable bright after the darkness of the tunnel.

Haifa turned to her, the words seeming ghostly from a presence with barely visible features: “You must flee the city come dawn.”.

Malakeh, “But should I not stay, after all, I am one of the few protected people.”

"No, you must make the Hajj, so that they cannot stop you from taking your seat."

“But I did long ago.”

“They will interpret the rules to mean the Hajj, since your election. Navid received word that they were moving troops to the shrine, he thinks to occupy it.”

Malakeh thought carefully, she did not want to go, her position as a member of the Hajj was invaluable, but she also realized that if the religious court had been corrupted, then they would argue that she since she had not taken the pilgrimage since elected, she was not yet truly a member.

“Very well, but we must also get the other members.”

“Why not go separately.” 

“They will capture us alone, where as, I think, being bullies, they will not attack the group of us.”

It was at this point that wolf’s tail – the graying – began in the east. Clearly it was far later than she had imagined, the entire night had passed. Surely their conversation had not lasted so long, or perhaps it had, they had talked about a great deal, children, Malakeh's two lost sons, who had died in the wars in the south, and a third son, who was now fighting there. Yes, it had been a long conversation. It could be dawn.

But then she realized it was not. It was light from fire. The were leaving the canal and reaching the edge of the bay, and now she could see that the harbor was on fire, that what she had taken to be graying in the East, was glowing from fire. It now emitted more and more smoke, and was growing in both intensity and malevolence.

She took her eyes off of it, and she saw behind them a wider boat, with oars, sturdier than their canal skiff. She pointed to it, and Haifa took several moments to turn and look at it, she had been transfixed by the growing fire. Aboard this boat were two men, one rowing, the other half standing. The first was Navid, somehow one could tell even from the back in the reflected light, pulling at the oars, she realized why, he always wore silk, and the reflection of the light shined off of it in a peculiar way that was almost a gloss. The second was cloaked in a dark hooded robe that obscured any features. The boat approached, and Hiafa pushed the poll down into the canal bottom to stop their skiff.

When the two boats glided together, the hooded figure and Navid both secured the two. The first moment after standing he was greeted with a warm embrace by Haifa, and oblivious to all else they hung in that pose for a moment, and then he stepped into the skiff, it wobbled ever so slightly. Navid turned to Malakeh and with that smoothest of voices. “You should go in the boat, we are going back to deal with the chaos in the city. It is no place for queens at this particular moment.”

She did so, settled on the front end of the boat, and looked back at the figure, who settled himself between the oars. The two boats separated, drifted apart, she touched her forehead and bade the peace of God on Navid and Haifa, who were pulling away as he began to poll back to the canal. She could see that bubble forming around them, as they looked only at each other and began to converse.

The robbed figure pulled back his hood, and there she saw the particular features of Siamak Adarpadyavand. But there was a calmness on them that she had not often see.

“The Peace of the God be upon you.”

She reflexively answered, “And his blessings with you.” A pause. “But I thought you were dead.”

“I have passed through death. But you must listen. We were betrayed, by who I do not know. I have sent out warnings in your name to all, and rescued Navid.”

“I know who it was who betrayed us. It was Samir. The adultery charge was what gave it away. Bashir, if he were of a mind to betray us, would not have also played such a card, but would have simply and directly charged us with treason. 

He believes in the old laws. It was Samir, I am sure of it.”

“You are probably correct, I have much, yet, to relearn. Though Siamak left behind much. Your former husband is also arrested, but he is broken when we found him, and is of them now, certainly beyond my poor power to add or detract from his suffering or his turn of mind.”

“Relearn? Left behind?” The addressing in third person was also disturbing.

“He was poisoned, and drank what is called the water of forgetfulness. It drove him made, boiling up the anger and jealousy within him. He collapsed and was as near death.”

“But the poison did not work. He lived, you live.”

“It did work, it drove his soul from his body, and for three days his body lay there, waiting.”

"How did they give it to him?"

"He bought it as a love potion, the first half he was to take, the second he was to give to you. His was to open his mind to possession, yours would have merely killed you, according to the man who knows such things. It was a foul plot, concocted by someone who could see what was occuring in his mind."

"And you remember this."

"I am as if another person had lived his life, as if, I were a different player to pick up a hand of cards from the person who had been dealt them, and played half of the hand."

"And what happened? What was it like?"

"I remember coming, and seeing this body beneath me, I had spoken with an eternal angel, who pointed me at a silver stair that descended downward. But I had to wrestle with a firy spirit, whose face is long and drawn, redened like hot metal or the ripening berries of the hills. And I placed my hand against his, and he stood like a rock, and I pressed my hand against him, and he failed to move. And then again, and he failed to move, and then again. For those two days I wrestled with him, hour upon hour, and each time he failed to move. I felt myself all but broken. I was broken. But then I realized that that effort had been in vain, I was not here to defeat the devil, but deliver this one life from him, and so, as I wrestled, I reached and plucked but one hair from his head, and as he winced, I passed by him down the stairs, and awoke on the bed, as Siamak, remembering nothing else from before. I lay there for almost a day, until I could move the limbs and establish control over the eyes and breath and all the corners of the mind."

"And you sent Siamak free."

"He was bound in torment, what little of him was left. Yes. The first thing I heard though, was your voice, as you visited the house."

She looked carefully at the features. She had heard stories of possession, she did not know if it was that, or merely Siamak’s way of presenting a conversion, brought on by his experience, to others. She looked hard for some core of belief to hold onto, to know. But there was none.

They continued to slowly and steadily row out, they passed closer and closer to the harbor, and she could see two ships afire, and the warehouses as well. In addition, she saw other small fires had broken out in the town, and the roofs had caught fire and started to burn that black soot.

“They must be setting on fire the homes of those that opposed the mayor.”

Siamack did not even glance back. “Fire is their only friend now. They have spiraled down into its embrace.”

“So you awoke after three days.”

“I came to this body after three days, and mended it. They had meant to open it to one of their own, and instead I came.”

“An angel?”

“No, I was once another, I do not know who. But I am Siamak Adarpadyavand now, and will be until my soul is separated from this body, and goes beyond to where ever the God has in mind for it.”

She looked at him. “I feel I have done so little, Navid was captured and escaped, you are back from the dead, others have organized, written, thought and spoken. I have done little, or nothing.”

“Nothing? Who went to Navid’s wife to reassure her?”

“But that is what had to be done, it was nothing.”

He shook his head between strokes. And then stopped rowing, the boot continued to move none the less, she assumed it to be a current.

“But only you did it, and a thousand times, when there needed to be a hand to touch, it was yours. I will tell you plainly, if it had not been for your staying with this body, it surely would have been lost. It was your touch which held enough of his soul to fight off the flurry that surrounds us all, that blackens the air beyond the candle flame.”

“It is nothing.”

“It is the tie that binds, this anointing with touch.”

She listened, she thought, she felt the movement of the boat accelerate, and then looked over her shoulder, there was a large square rigged vessel, of an unusual design, anchored outside of the light of the burning town, she could see it because only in outline and by a dim reflection of the fire. No, that wasn’t true, now it was coming dawn, dawn behind it made the silhoutte stronger with each passing moment.
“And so that is what I am, to wander through the world, protected by others, having others do, and not do, in my name?”

“You are one of the healers of a sick world. Siamak knew it and resented it.”

His words were stiff, his eyes burned, not in the piercing way of old, but lit by some inner fire. It did not try to overwhelm or beat down.

“And what now? What of Ali and the rest.”

“Ali and Parvaneh escaped before you did, she knew that something was very wrong, and sensed it was time to take flight. He went with her, his affections now focused on her life above his own. He gave me this, to give to you.” He passed over a small scroll. She took it gingerly, half expecting him to judge her as she took it.

She looked back at the city, with the morning light now making the clouds seem even blacker, because they were more clearly defined in contrast to white buildings and green hills. They poured upward as dye flows downward into water. Or squid’s ink fills an aquarium.

“And what now?”

“I will do what Siamak should have done before – take defense of the town. You, and the others, must go on the pilgrimage, and then to the Hajj. For what has happened here is happening elsewhere.”
She nodded, it was her duty. And with that her spiritual legs gathered under her, as quickly as a cats do during a fall. She straightened, assumed a different mien. She was being born to a vessel, she had others who worked for her protection, because it was she who bound the parts together. Now it was time to earn this name that had been made for her.

“And you?”

“I am the Queenmaker, and having helped set you on this throne, I will help in the utmost to keep you there. Because it is what only you can do.”

The boat slowed, without obvious effort on his part, as they approached the ship, and it began to tower over them. The came to a complete stop on a boarding raft, and joined a cluster of other small boats there. She sat, and then stood up, and stepped her way on to the planks that bobbed slightly in the growing waves. Siamak gestured for peace to be upon her, and then turned the boat with his oars, and began pulling away, though far faster than should have been for the speed which he was rowing.

She looked about, and seeing no one here, turned towards the robe stairs that went up at a steep angle along the ship. She boarded up the stairs from the ocean level raft, there, too, were the other Hajj members, she imagined that they were as in shock as they. It was a stranged bedraggled grouping, and she felt pulled out of her cocoon, she had not bathed in some time, nor changed clothes. But then, the feel of sweat stiffened clothes, sandals that had been worn into, wasn’t that what made a pilgrim.

What shocked her is that each of the others did homage to her, and thanked her for notes that she had not had sent, and for a warning given by another in her name. She blinked, and realized that she had been given a gift, one that she would now have to keep up. She took each one in turn and embraced them, and then went with them to the stern of the ship, which rocked as the vessel now weighed anchor.

At first it seemed to gain speed slowly, and then she could see the few small boats left behind, their occupants now rowing south and east, away from the harbor, and to one of the small fishing villages up the coast, gradually losing distinction as people and becoming merely figures. She was transfixed, and she felt bathed by the warm breeze and the salt air seemed to scour her cheeks and run its fingers through her hair. It grew in strength.

The wind from south, from the Ocean Haram, now blew fiercely, as the town disappeared into the West, the fires from the harbor and the normal haze now blow north and out to see. She had never seen the air so clear, nor felt it so clean. She saw the buildings of the city, from minarets to villas on the hills, from the few ships still spired, now out at anchor in the bay, it was all etched with fine and acid clarity, while the background was hidden in the mixture of haze, smoke and soot that billowed black and then was forced away. It seemed a curtain drenched in dirt. The smell of sulfur was gone, and there was a brutal unimpeachable clarity, in this, her last memory for many months, she imagined, of her home and its environs.

But behind this vision, or perhaps overlayed upon it, was the feeling she felt looking into Siamak’s eyes – or who ever it now was, or claimed to be. Feeling as if she was falling into them, and yet they pouring into her, with that unseen unquenchable fire.


In Al-Quareshi, during the war, the board became an institution. Originally it had been put up by some merchants to tack notices of ships coming in, and sales of goods. However, it rapidly became a place where all sorts of other notices were placed. When the soldiers were raised from Al-Quareshi to fight in the Vedic Sultanates, in addition to the standing army and the Caliphs personal troops, it rapidly became the place where the lists of the fallen, missing or returning wounded were posted. At first it was copied lists from the town hall, which posted the official dispatch. But the town hall was both in convenient – because the main square had a bazaar in it, and made reading anything difficult, and people who were looking for names also wanted to match this to returning ships and other information of that kind.

Finally the town mayor, a military man who had retired from combat some years before, had bills printed up which joined returning ship information, casualty lists, and the government’s own statements on the war, and had them posted on the harbor boards, and on boards used to announce worship services at every mosque which would allow it, which was, in the end, all of them.

Rapidly they became places where people watched and waited, played chess, did business. Women would come with their sewing to wait for the next posting. Young wives would come down when they heard the banging of hammers. Older men would look for their sons in the waning hours of the day, after closing up their shops. There came to be an public atmosphere, as people would comfort others who had lost someone, or were merely worried beyond endurance. It came to be a place of bonding. Mosques would send Imams outside to hold prayer sessions, and vendors sold food and water. If you wanted to find someone, it paid first to look near the board nearest their home or mosque.

Gradually the “vultures” came to dwell near them, those whose business was death, particularly lawyers who specialized in wills, fortune tellers – though these were careful to ply their trade under other guises – and brokers of various kinds – pawn brokers, apprentice brokers, marriage brokers, child brokers. All of the trade in human flesh was soon represented, as some were even forced to sell themselves into slavery to pay the debts of a lost husband or father. Dark tales started to circulate as to what happened to young women in such circumstances, but the practice was not stopped, indeed, the court sent clerks to each of the boards and charged for sealing the contracts on the spot.

Thus the boards became, at once, both the great gathering place of the town, the place where people came to talk freely, and, at the same time, a place of somewhat ill repute. And yet everyone went, out of need, or curiosity, or desire to do business or locate another.

In one of the most respectable neighborhoods, the board was placed under a throng of five thin aspen trees, with their odd broad leaves, and graceful weeping boughs, it was generally kept clear of the worst of “board culture”, and was nestled between two shops. There had been an alley way between them, but that had been boarded up some time ago, and the trees planted in squares of earth, which had flourished and now obscured that there had ever been an alley. A board was erected early there, to announce sales and specials. But it had, like so many others, become the place of news and gathering.

It was on that terrible morning, in the thick rain, that Shahzadeh, or Zadeh as she was nicknamed – went early in the morning. Because of the sheets of water, only the people who had to be there were there, clustered around the board itself, under an awning that had been put up over it. They were reading names.

Each one was read allowed, because many women could not read. There were stones that had been set up as tables for chess and drinking, but these were empty but for one woman, draped in heavy robes with a long scarf embroidered in pearls – who was in tears, her head in her hand, oblivious to how damp she was becoming.

Zadeh was not the sort of person to push her way to the board, and she had thought to hang by the corner, out of the wet and the falling tree leaves. But as soon as she reached the edge of the group, she found that they parted for her. The list of names was long, and it took her a moment to realize that it stopped only partway through the alphabet, there was more bad news to come. It stopped before her father’s name could be there. She puzzled for a moment of the special treatment, but then remembered that her father, as an officer, would be listed in the first list. All sound died in her ears, she heard nothing at that moment, as her heart seemed to stop beating, and she looked up at the right hand corner – and there, were a dozen names, itself a bad sign, since fewer then one in ten were officers, and officers did not die at the same rate as mere soldiers. She could see “Parand, Kurush, Surgeon and Artesh”, that is the commander of a regiment.

She stared there, her hands closing first to fists and then opening. An older woman embraced her, but she simply stared at the crudely printed letters whose ink was smeared. For a moment, and only a moment, she thought she had misread it, and then for a moment, only another moment, she thought she was in a dream, and that she would wake up, her mind grasped on the strange colour of the leaves, and the way there was a drifting unreality to the way the slight touch of wind was pushing the skirts of the older women.

She sniffled, stifling back tears, this was no place for her to cry. She wanted to clear her head, but could not manage to do so, or even move. An older woman embraced her, she realized that many of the women before the sign were already in mourning dress, they were standing there to comfort those who came after, or were waiting for news, which was sure to be bad.

Sound came back to her ears and the world began moving at its normal speed again. The dreamlike quality was off of it, and she felt as if she were standing at the bottom of a deep pit. She was hearing noises of comfort: “It was the will of The God”, “He was so brave”. But they were almost foreign as a language to her. Many were in the holy tongue, many were in Farsi – the language of business and government. Some were in other languages – for the elite of Al-Quareshi were indeed of three different people. But they reduced down to a babble, until the oldest woman there told the others to hush.

She blinked and shook herself, gently pushed away the hands that touched her and nodded that she was fine. Her first stop was her uncle’s house, for there was now much preparation. She walked quickly, it was raining, and raining and raining. She looked back once at the women waiting by the board, and decided it had to be her duty to go back there later to comfort others.

With this she turned down the street and ran, her thin legs pumping as fast as they could under her skirts, her breath heaving in her chest, and an acid itch of forming tears at the corners of her eyes, that was pushed away by the rivulets of the raindrops that meandered down her face, as they fell off of her hooded shawl.

By the time she reached her uncle’s villa, high up in the Palm Quarter, she was bedraggled. Her over cloak – white with a pattern of diamonds sewn in beads – was clinging to her overdress, which was, in turn, clinging to her undergarments, which were soaking through at the seams. It would take a long time before it would be dried by the sun. She came through the gate, where there was a small garden in front, and behind that an awning, where sat her uncle and four other men. The were discussing business rapidly in Arabic – they were traders from far away, as cold be seen by their open and flowing dress, more appropriate to the south. But Kentauri traders would have used Farsi, and therefore she concluded that they must come from the Caliphate of the Islands, where only Arabic was spoken under the new law, called Sharia, which reigned there.

She reached the awning, and her uncle Iskander looked at her. She must have been a sight, her thinness accentuated by how the layers of her clothing clung oddly to the few parts of her that had reached womanhood, while the rest remained firmly in that time of just coming of age. Her gangliness fit with her body in another way, there were features that were not quite in proportion – her nose was too long, her hands were too large, her eyes were large – she had gotten her mother’s cat’s eyes – and her cheek bones unusually pronounced. She slouched, and thought of her self as ugly. Her uncle smiled at her, he remembered her mother at the same age, and she too had been half woman and half girl, but had flowered into a great beauty. Shahzadeh was short, as her grandfather had been, but otherwise would almost certainly be courted far and wide.

“And you have come to us with great news I can tell.” He waved dismissively to his interlocutors and said “We should speak in side.” He took her in even as she was opening her mouth to break the news, taking her hand and leading her into the lower level. As with a villa of that time, the first floor was a single room with pillars, between which rooms were created as needed by hung drapes. This allowed the room to be flooded with light during the day. He walked over to the kitchen – fortunately the morning run of the oven had left enough heat to warm the coffee that had been cold brewed overnight. He poured the coffee into the warmer through a cheesecloth, and waited.

He looked at her.

“I have heard there was a great defeat at Pradesh. You face tells me the worst.”

She shook her head slowly in the affirmative, not trusting her voice yet.

“It will be almost certain that troubled times are ahead.”

She nodded slowly in the affirmative.

“You will have to be made a citizen.”

She furrowed her brow.

“You are your father’s daughter, and as of not long ago, of legal age. Two trisdekads means that I can no longer act as your guardian.”

“But how do I do this?”

“You must find a solicitor, and do what needs to be done, a woman has not been made a citizen at your age for some time. The usual process involves a widow, who takes on her husband’s tax. But there must be another way.”

“Uncle, surely you are wise enough to do this.”

“And if I do, they will take it to court, and show that you did not do it of your own will and faith, and take it away from you. And aside from this, I must journey south to the Islands to clear up your father’s business there. And then north to the German lands. I need you to be able to do all that must be done here, and without my intervention. This is your test, little Princess, The God has set you to come of age. I can help you, but it would be no help.”

He then recited:

“And the fledgling butterfly, If shorn from cocoon by false charity Will die, its muscles untested by nascent flight And then to be fodder for the birds of the night.”

She looked straight at him, and said “I will do this.”

She curtseyed gravely, and in the old style, and started to leave, but he ladled out some coffee to a small cup.

“The holder of a great house, may drink coffee when she needs it.”

She sipped first the sweet dark liquid, it sent a kind of wave along her skin and to her face, that was between pleasure and revulsion, warmth and goose-bumps, and a sensation more intense than any she had heard described outside of a few poems that she was not supposed to have read at her age.

“May The God aid you in all promises made and all covenants kept.”

He smiled “And may his peace and blessings be upon you.” While his voice went down to punctuation, it nevertheless uplifted her, and made her happy to go on her way.

Her uncle cleared his throat and pointed at a rack with a rain over-garment, which she traded for her wet overcoat. She set down the small cup, turned towards him, curtseyed again, and left.

And then dashed off into the rain.

It was when she hit the street, water still running down the sides of it, that she thanked that her boots were fur-lined and very dry. They had been made in a town that conjured up the most exotic visions in her, even its name was alien: the German capital of Avalon.


When she reached her father’s house, at the very foot of the Palm Quarter, much smaller than her uncle’s grand villa, for her father did not believe in display, and wanted a location nearer the small medical college – which he had helped found some annae before, or rather, take from being a single building school to a chartered college.

She entered into the house itself. Terribly empty, as her cousins were away – one north and one in Kentauri – and there was only a part time servant. She knew there was more than enough money to hire one – but it was gold, and she was not allowed to touch gold coins by law. Nor pay in silver as she was not. Wait, she was of legal age. Silver, a woman servant. She envisioned company, a greater sense of safety, and more time for her studies. It would be done, as soon, of course, as she was a citizen.

But how to do this? Without touching her father’s funds, she was at a loss for how to do it. Her uncle had clearly stated that none of the money could be his. And so, how to get the money? Borrow it? Earn it? But the only ways she had even heard of any young lady, rather woman, her age earn money were activities that she dared not even think of participating in.

There was a ring, and she answered the door, dripping in the rain was a message carrier, wearing the town livery and holding on his back a sack of scrolls. He handed a small bound case to her, and waited for a tip. She had some bronze coins in her pocket, she pressed one into his hand. He left with a smile, and turned about to run to the next door.
She unfurled the scroll, it was her father’s last message to her. She did not read so much as soak it up through her eyes.
She did nothing more that day but move from kitchen to bed, crying – clutching the scroll all the while. Only when dark began to creep through the house – and truly a deepening dark for the clouds were still hanging over the city – did she close the drapes and go up stairs to her hammock – strung between two pillars, and sleep a fitful sleep filled with the kind of dreams that are never remembered, except through the footprints of fear they leave behind in the memory.

She awoke the next morning, across east the bay was lit, the sun was a florid orangish red, but was rapidly being covered over, it was as if an awning of light grey clouds was being slid across the sky. She saw something unfamiliar – she thought at first it was volcanic ash, which she knew from trips into the mountains, or perhaps one of the days where the swirling sulfur fell out of the air. But this was quite different, it drifted down, it floated, it hovered and then fell. In fact, it fell with ever greater speed and density.

She went out on to the balcony, and touched it – it was icy cold to the touch. She had been a little girl the last time she had seen – snow.

At that moment it was hitting the balcony and melting, but leaving behind a sheen of water with specks of ice in it. The wind began to blow more harshly. She shut out the outside, and went down stairs to fire up the oven, stacking it full of fuel and running the bellows. As she did this she continued to ponder her fate, and how, exactly, she was going to deal with the situation. Where to get the money from?

She was at a complete loss. It was not that she was not a practical person, she was studying mathematics and literature and business, and intended to take over, eventually, her father’s thriving trade in medical equipment and supplies. His own invention – a medical instrument for measuring the strength of the blood pumping – and his improvements to instruments for cutting the skin and muscle, were well thought of, and brought tremendous profits. She realized that it was his business no longer, that in 61 days there would be the reading of the will, and that she was now the owner of all of this, as soon as she could find a way to citizenship. The tears wanted to flow, but she gritted her teeth, put on a warmer, and then went to a lower cabinet where her father kept his coffee. She counted out 62 beans, ground them, and began making hot water to brew the coffee. In took sometime for it to get hot enough, but by that point the oven was letting off enough heat that she no longer felt desperately cold. She pulled all of the drapes across, which divided the downstairs into 9 separate rooms, to keep the heat in the small corner which was the kitchen .

There was a small window of glass that faced south, and at this point it was accumulating snow on the window sill. It was a off white color from the sulfur in it, but otherwise a kind of fine ornament. She looked south on the lower level of the town – she was on the last terrace of the Palm Quarter, which was somewhat above the basin in which the main town, with its canals and bridges. But it was enough to see the rooftops of most of the buildings until the harbor to the far south, and, if she peered around as far as she could, until the town center in the west. Thus, she thought of it as looking “down” on the rest of the city. The white was rapidly piling up, though still melting on the black shapes of the tubes of rubber which the sun warmed, and thus provided heated water.

This reminded her to draw off all of the water from the heater into the tank, as tepid as it would certainly be. This task occupied her for some time, as she had trouble with the valves and finally found the tools, selected a wooden mallet from among them, and managed to use it to tap the water open. There was a satisfying rushing sound, and she stood there, just listening to it, for how long she did not know. After that, she drew off some of the warm water, and began cleaning the kitchen – there were dishes from two days ago – and then as much else as she could reach. It was only when a ring from the front door came that she realized she had been doing all of this in her bed clothes. She rang the “wait” bell at the front, and went upstairs to change. She realized her damp cloths from before needed to be specially dried from the weather, but put off dealing with this until she could handle the problems of a visitor.

She decided to enforce that she was indisposed for the day by wearing house slippers. This was a rare thing, since almost all sociability occurred out of doors. But it was cold, snow, windy, nasty, and the entire town was in shock anyway. Some 100,000 people lived in Al-Quareshi or its immediate abutting villages, and it was a very dark day for many of them. She dreaded going down to the news boards for even more information, and then remembered her own promise to serve time among the widows.

She had reached the door, and opened it without checking who it was. There stood her cousin, dressed in a traveling cloak of strange design, with a heavy hood. It was, she finally realized, wool. It had a large metal clasp to hold it in place. He clearly wore some rather odd clothes under it, and heavy black boots. He looked refreshed, rather than cold, and swept in. Ibrahim was the son of her mother’s sister. The sister had died giving him life, and he, and his brother, had lived with her father ever since. They were also the idols of her young life, she longed to follow them, be with them, and be accepted by them in their sophisticated talk. For a long time they had ignored her, but, at a certain point, they allowed her in to their deliberations and secret world of adolescence. It did not occur to her until very recently, it was because she had started to mature, and lent their activities an air of respectability. They fed her love poems, and would instantly banish any that she found too bawdy or beneath notice. They tried out their introductions, and even dance steps with her. Learning gallantry – that new fashion acquired from the German lands – by teaching it to her.

He swept in, lifted her up. And proclaimed:

“The God has brought me back to you. Though misfortune is the reason, bring me to the kitchen and let us be together!” It was an effusive bubbling, and he kissed her on both cheeks before setting her back down on her feet.
She took him by the hand, led him through the curtains and to the kitchen. He immediately smelled coffee, and looked at her. He raised an eyebrow, and she replied in kind.

“Clearly you have matured more than just in body since I was last here.” Almost half an anna ago he had left. And yes, she thought, I am different.

She had only one cup of coffee made, but gave it to him, and he took only the barest of sips before handing it back to her.

“My baggages are still on the ship. But we must first speak of darker things that will never be spoken of again.”
They drew to chairs into the kitchen, and as the snow stuck to the windows, and then day turned to dark, and his gaze on her hardened, his muscles tightened. There was a ripple in her chest and a quiver in her heart, she felt that he did not want to say what he was about to say.

- - -

At first she had an impulse to take the discussion to the divan, covered as it was with leather with its comfortable seats to set coffee or tea cups. It beckoned, to her, but the hard gaze from her interlocutor, and there was enough light coming from window to make where they were seem a fragile space which welcomed human presence, where the rest of the house came to feel with each passing moment to be a vast haunting place, like a cemetery or other forbidden place. Thus she looked at him, and leaned in from her chair, huddled around the fading warmth of her coffee cup.

He began, slowly, with a voice that seemed worn by talking, its edges filed, but not smoothed by fatigue.

“I wish you to understand it should not have been like this. Much of what I have to say has been, hidden, from you.”

“Was it my father’s wish?” It seemed difficult to believe that he would hide anything essential.

“No, your father was opposed to the secrecy, but these are fragile times.” He paused. She could barely see his features, and thus did not really know whether he intended to go on or stop. She hesitated, heart sounding in her ears. He continued: “ There has been a more terrible defeat at Pradesh than even you will hear, though, because our small city took bears great losses, it will be known here as a weighty battle.” He again paused for longer than she was comfortable with.

This time, however she interrupted. “I have heard a story that we have left the war.”

“That is not clear yet, but it is likely, and if we are wise, which we have not always been, it will be so. We will take payment in gold and silver in return for our accepting terms, if the reports I have are to be believed. But that is not the problem. It is not that we lost, it how we were beaten.”

“And how was that?”

“Our enemies used a weapon which is terrible in its aspect, far worse than any spear, shot, or even firearm. They used a poisonous gas, one which debilitates and kills. We know that they must have received great aid from others to create it. It not only ends our making war on the Vedic Kingdoms, but opens the possibility that they will take this weapon and use it to expand.”

“So there is a fear over the land, and it is justified.”

“But that is only the beginning.”

“It seems enough.”

“It is not. You do not know the past well enough, I who have seen the last of it still do not truly understand, your father fought in the Vedic Wars, he explained it as best he could.” In a sudden broad gesture, suited for the dark he waved his hand towards the front of the house. “South there is the Ocean Haram – the Ocean of Sanctuary. The sea forbidden to unbelievers. And once this was so, our armies swarmed across the borders and lands. Our ships and galleys brought Jihadeen to conquer, convert and subjugate. It is made into our culture.”

“We were warriors once.” It was a phrase her father had used, like a ritual, to describe any behavior she had which surprised him, particularly one she picked up from other children or at the mosque.

“Yes, but no more. There is to be a new way. We are to be merchants, manufacturers and mullahs. We are to be a new people. But we have the weight of the old government on us. A vizier who is a warlord by another name.”

She sipped more coffee, it burned down her throat, not from heat, but from a kind of grainy dryness. She was not familiar with the feeling, of coffee’s effect fading.

“This is grand politics, and I am sure I should be interested. But what does it have to do with me.”

“When the city is to heavy on the ground, there is an earthquake, when there is too much weight on a ship, it capsizes. 

Our land is set for many changes, and they will go on for some time. For now there are some who think that we are farther along than we are. They rush.”


“Not all of the dead are dead at Pradesh. There was a second battle, one against our own people, to put down a revolt.”

“Against the Vizier?”

“The current Vizier is in a very precarious position, but no, against the established way. It was rootless, angry, and doomed. Al-Quareshi has its discontents, but not enough to rebel. There were many dead, many women and children.”

She drew breath in.

“And still, I must ask as a poor woman child, what this is of mine.”

“Do you not understand?” She could feel his look of slightly impatient explanation at this, and then he resumed: “You are about to be the inheritor of your father. He navigated the shoals of politics, for the old order grasps more and more of the profits of the land. Now that you own all that he owned, or will when you set affairs in order, you will too.”

“My father did…”

“… business with the Germans, the Chishanese, the Veda, the Hellenikos, the Latins. And was watched all the time.”

“He was a commander and a long serving member of the military.”

“And he was a thinker, poet, surgeon, doctor, teacher and radical.”


“You have no idea how differently your life has been from others.”

“I know that the attitudes of our house were sometimes in appropriate to discuss outside.”

He stood and stretched, and did a small walk around the chair. And as he did.

“More than this. And because of this, we are watched. People will be tried for merely breathing the wrong air, and deprived of their heads. There will be, for a time, open use of the secret police., the Talibeen.” She did not shudder, though many would, at the dread stories that were told of them.

“And I will be watched?”

“Soon, but not yet, after all, you are not of importance. But as soon as you announce that you are to assume citizenship. Yes.”

“I will need help, and I have been offered. None.”

Here she tried to peer into the dark to get some sense of him.

“I will send someone to you, he is young, but subtle, his name is Navid, and he is a surgeon, a student of your father’s.”

The name produced only a hazy recall of a rather silky face some annae before. He seemed, composed, with bright eyes, which, were unlike the cat’s eyes she saw each time she looked in the mirror.

“For this I thank you.”

It seemed to reduce the conversation to quiet. And yet, there was an unbearable weight on it, and the silence was punctuated with the heavy glops of increasingly dense snow hitting the window.

It was she who could bear it no more.

“Why have I received no help from my uncle?”

“He is going to pretend to leave on business soon, but it will be long before he returns to your sight. He is fleeing to military command, where they will have trouble catching him.”

“Why is this?”

“They will think he knows what your father knew.”

It was her turn to break out of her hunch, and stretch. She yawned, and then stopped before it ceased.

“What is that.”

There was a slow exhale.

“I wish I knew. Probably little, which is worse than much.”

“Surely such a mania would not grip us.”

“It has gripped us for an age, the war in the Vedic lands was a mania, we had nothing to do with it.”

“But The Faithful…”

“Would have adapted. We are not the soldiers we once were, your father was of the last. He was a horseman, surgeon, tactician, planner. He trained every day of his boyhood for it. I less so, since at first I was destined for the mosque, or university.”

She almost laughed. “None of the young men I know or know of do that.”

“It is neither good nor bad, it simply is. But it is not understood in the halls of power.”

“And my uncle leaves, I become a citizen, and watch myself.” She began to get a little giddy. “Is that all.”

“Traffic not in revolution, it is not yet in season.” He stood at this point.

“Now I must return to my dwelling.”

She stood easily and stepped to him, putting her hand on his shoulder. “It is frightful out.”

He seemed to gaze at the window, at least his profile turned towards it.

“You are right, more is about this night than man.”

He stood, turned towards her, and took her by the hand upstairs, where sleeping was. She had a hammock, and there was her father’s bed, which was an old fashioned kind with a tent than hung from the ceiling above it, and was in fact a hammock slung between two poles. The new beds were flat and sprung on a new innovation, the mattress. The sleeping on hammocks dated back to the first years of the faithful on Ishtar, to be ready for war.

He took the guest hammock near the glass doorways to the balcony, which is what he could easily see. She by default took her father’s place to sleep, and it was easy for her to fall into the ghostly darkness.

- - -

He was gone before she awoke – oh that easy habit of men to awake at need – and left her with sweeping the steps, the balcony and the rest. She set down and sorted through papers and bills. She cancelled her riding, since she was merely a rider, and not really a “horsewoman”, it was a luxury, not a skill. She also cancelled much else, because it would consume precious coinage.

There was a ring from the front, which signified a visitor. She looked up, she was not expecting any sort of. Wait. The help, Navid. She searched and remembered his last name as “Shaheen”.

She stood, went to the front and opened the door. And there, as bright as the new day reflecting off the rapidly melting snow, was a not quite thin, but very upright young man, with the kind of liquid features and visage that seems to mark the memory easily, but not specifically. He was easy to remember, but hard to recall.

“Please accept my service and peace in the name of The God.” He proffered a scroll of introduction.

She laughed, so old fashioned. “Of course I know you. Come in.”

He smiled, and not in the awkward way she expected from someone who could not be much more than her 26 annae.

He brushed passed her, and walked to the kitchen, a kind of familiarity in his stride, he settled before the oven, and looked expectantly at it.

“May I have some coffee?”

She smiled, took out the coffee, opened it, and counted 120 beans for two cups, half heartedly looking at the shapes of the beans, with their crease and roundness, it struck her differently some how. But she ground them up without hesitation, and made truly hot coffee, regardless that it used up more fuel that was good.

Navid the settled down, seeming very different from the glowering presence of the night before that had, inhabited her house and rocked back in the chair. He was more filled out than “lanky” would allow for, but still quite whip young. She could see that he barely needed to shave.

“So, you have a problem.”

She explained at great length. He listened patiently, or mostly patiently, sometimes looking into her eyes, and sometimes at her generally, sometimes at the wall and sometimes at the window. But able to prompt for information, it was clear his mental attention did not wander.

At length, he spoke rather than interjected:

“I can find you both the lawyer you need, and a source of funds. The first is safe, the second is not without risk.”

She looked at him.

He took out two small cards, both with names and addresses.

“The first, is a young friend of mine, just confirmed to the law. But his uncle is on the court that hears the cases, and his cousin is the registrar. But you will have to visit the other first. He is a German, but will be able to come to an arrangement on funds.”

She took the cards, and examined both carefully. He had precise script, very flowing. After placing them in a small pouch she looked at him, just as light from the sun flooded through the south window. The world looked sharply different, and she knew her irises must have reduced down to ellipses, because the colors grew hard to distinguish.

“And what will the money before.”

“You’ve heard of the novel art of painting.” There was a faint trace of irony in his voice. They both knew why.

“Yes.” She smiled and was almost excited.

“He will want you to pose for him, without clothes.”

It would take her many years for her to admit that it was anything more than shock she felt, but it was a delicious shock. 

A kind of quivering at a cold touch of expectation, combined with trepidation, and of course, modesty.

“I am not sure if I like such an arrangement.”

“I have my reasons, he will pay you in German silver coins, which, unlike ours, are still quite fine. There will be no problems in their acceptance.”

She straightened up. “You think of an awful lot. What, what if he tries to take advantage of the circumstances.”

“I will arrange for your safety. He is trustworthy – and – pointing absently in the direction of a wall hidden by a drapery – “the creator of that work that is above the china chest. He would no more dishonor your father’s patronage, than you would allow it.”

She was still not at equilibrium, but it was enough for the moment. She gathered up scrapes of dignity and put her best voice on it, of slight haughtiness combined with a soft coldness.

“I am so glad Ibrahim sent you.”

“Ibrahim? He was imprisoned days ago by the Talibeen. No, it was your father who sent me a letter asking me to help if you should be in need of help. It is the scroll I gave you.”

She opened it and read it carefully. It was all in order, in her father’s familiar meandering hand, except that it was dated two days after her father had died.

- - -

She allowed Navid to finish his coffee and immediately made a motion towards the front door with her arms, indicating it was time to leave; he raised a jaunty eyebrow, clearly not used to being dismissed so quickly, but he picked his frame up, and, at a graceful amble, made it to the door – looked directly into her eyes for a instant in a contact which was both fleeting and fixed in her memory from the moment it happened.

“I have many things I must attend to.”

His nod and smile seemed to be wrapped in the same motion, and he made his pleasant farewells. Turning and walking down the steps that hugged the side of the building, and disappeared into the throng of the street – now moving in fits and starts as it navigated growing puddles and rivulets that had formed from the banks of now brownish snow.

She watched the entire way, finding an artistic appreciation in how he moved and in the shape of him as seen from behind, with his doctors tunic belted tightly around his waist, and his heavy boots forcing his legs to have a peculiar weight as they went down, even as they seemed to swing freely when in motion.

Soo closed the door and was about to head back to her papers, but, instead, she set all of the drapes to closed, giving a marvelous openness to the entire first floor. She did this on the pretense of a chore, as if it were a duty, her movements uninhabited by her thoughts. But then, after this was done, she turned towards the now illuminated section to the left of the front door, where there was a large series of lidded benches, where the china was stored, and above these their hung an oblong painting. It was the painting that Navid had mentioned, familiar to them both. It was a long landscape, overhung with large leaves run riot from tropical plants, which, in the middle third of the painting, had an aperture that looked out on to a mosque, low and heavy like a turtle, but with two graceful soaring minarets, which, like painter’s brushes set in their rack, pointed upwards with a slender neck that widened close to the top.

It was an object of fascination for most visitors, who had never seen such layers of paint, which gave the whole thing a weight which Kentauri painting, largely based on the Hellenic styles learned from the old city’s artisans, did not even attempt.

Her eyes flowed around it, and she saw, again, the birds hidden in the branches, the small mammal with saucer like eyes, and again renewed her self with the languid shapes of the voluptuous foliage. She looked in to the sky, with its early retreating dusk, and first suggestion of stars. She looked at the curve of the dome, which seemed to have a single highlight of a bright bronze, though from what light she did not know. She looked the minarets, and saw the suggestion of a window in one, and, as she always did, she walked closer to see that, indeed, there was something resting on its sill, though she had never been able to tell quite what. She had always imagined it was a sleeved arm, from someone leaning back on the sill, but looking inwards. Inwards to the mystery, and not outwards to the sky. She again, as she had often in the past, furrowed her brow, wondering why her image was so specific.

She had to shake herself to pull her eyes away from it, and set them back to work examining columns of figures and details of the business. Her desk seemed to reek of a dry air, and the wood, darkened with special oils, seemed, instead of comforting, arid as a desert. When downstairs there was a riot of color.

No, not downstairs, in a room, in a house, whose address, she had in her pouch. It was there that there was a world of colour, colour beyond what she had known and seen before. And mastered by a mysterious sorcerer of an art that was, indeed, a kind of magic.

- - -

She began to grow nibblingly hungry, and at first thought of cooking – a process that involved many steps, and time. And then of purchasing something from a street vendor, and then finally her mind settled on something else. She needed a maid, and she needed to hire one. It might take more time, but there was no delaying it. She could feel days slipping through her fingers, and she was about to embark on a course which would gobble up every instant of available time.
Thus a plan formed in her mind, to go look for a maid, down near the board there were both people to hire, and people to ask about them, and then eat. This, in turn, reminded her of public mourning. She was not, in itself, devoted to mourning, but she did desire to tell others that she was among those who had lost.

She realized this too, would take time, and the idea of “just cooking” began to have a chorus in its support. But then came the realization that she needed the ashes taken from the oven anyway, and restacking the wood. And hence, it was a choice of getting dirty, or reaching a sumptuous clean required of mourning. She, once it had been placed in these terms, chose to draw a bath, having filled the water heater on the roof among her morning chores, looked forward to warm water.
Luxuriating in the water, to which she had added scented oils, at first brought a deep relaxation. But then, as soon as she settled into the bath, instead of bringing a sated feeling of warmth, brought a sensation of emptiness. She had the peculiar feeling that her father would return, as Ibrahim – the ghost? – had returned.

She rejected this and chose a more material explanation. Ibrahim was reported dead, but had smuggled himself into the city to do what needed to be done, and had, probably, forged the letter to Navid – he father’s script was not difficult to manage, she thought, if someone set their mind to it. This, in turn, made her toy with getting a draft on his silver with a forged letter and using that to pay, rather than Navid’s suggestion. She looked down at her body, resting on the base of the tub, water flickering over her legs, and creating its own geography. She knew, in the abstract, that its lines and curves would be a continent, or at least an island, of desire for men. She could not help thinking what it would be like to have it, not merely looked at, but rendered on to paint, to be stared at and absorbed by yet other eyes beyond her own.

Again, abstractly, she considered that someday there would be a husband, and that he, of course, would gaze at her with want, and she even smiled as she thought about having a man want her. But this contrasted with the thought of having many mean want her picture. She could almost see in her mind a painting of her, draped in some exotic costume, reclining on a bed. She had heard there were such pictures. Or posed in some manner, turned away from the viewer, her shoulders forming a broad smooth curve across the canvas.

She sighed, stood, drained the water, and dried. While going through the ritual of preparing herself to be seen – which she had learned from her aunt not all that long ago, who had taken her aside, and sternly told her that it was time she stopped looking like a scrubbed corpse in public.

The movements were still not habitual, as much as she tried to consider what she should do, the need to pluck and paint and dab with precision overcame her ability to focus. Her only thought was a near giggle that the restrictions on women surgeons were foolish, since everyone committed surgery on her face every day.

Dressing was more prefunctatory, she did not worship clothes. But as she slid the heavy black embroidered dress over her head, her father had insisted that it be made, she felt a kind of girdled comfort in it. It was like being on horseback in its own way, her own body extended by this external thing. Which was not merely a tool, like a pot or a pen, but, somehow, a magnification. She realized that part of this was visual, the dress padded out her hips and bust, making her seem more mature, but as much of it was simply the sensation, of being surrounded by the material, and thus somehow protected, and indeed, even armed.

Her leaving into the streets was difficult, she wore black riding boots, in defiance of mourning tradition, because the streets, cobbled though they were, were not fit for anything more delicate, The boots showed to the mid-calf beneath the dress. But she took a kind of perverse bride: it was appropriate to mourn those who died in war with their boots on, she thought of her father, and realized, no matter what, Kismet did not want him to die in bed.

She saw the square where the board was, the trees were now devoid of leaves, and as she entered it, and moved away from the houses with their balconies that overhung the street, there was a crisp openness to the sky, which was only lightly slurried with high, small, but dark clouds. Reaching the board found it crowded, there were many, like herself, in mourning dress, talking, looking at each other, and engaged in small activities such as embroidering and sewing. But the market place activity had returned. Which was as she hoped.

She looked to one side, where there were stone benches, and on them sat various women in old fashioned clothes, the kind which almost wrapped around the body, and which had scarves to cover their heads. Many were older. Some were quite young. She was not sure which would be better – experience or adaptability – her eye roamed across them. Finally she settled on one who was even younger than herself, and wearing clothes which were both more up to date in style, and worn thin from over use.

She went to the young woman, who spent as much time, looking down as looking up. And seemed in pain.

Shahzadeh made a very formal curtsey, and the young woman stood smoothly and replied in turn, with a slight turn of the hand that indicated that she too, had learned the older rituals. As Shahzadeh had expected, she was of good family, and probably had lost everything in the war.

"I would like you to know who I am, I am Shahzadeh Parand, and I am seeking someone to help me."

The young girl, her eyes dark and wide looked back, and said.

"I will come with you. I am Haifa, Haifa Ghalandar " And smiled back.

Shahzadeh knew the Ghalandar family. The mother and father had divorced acrimoniously, the mother returning to her people - in the wild lands of Gulistan, to the north. The father had died in the war sometime before. Obviously Haifa had not been as fortunate.

Haifa stood up, and followed, as Shahzadeh lead outwards, not to her home, but to a small restaurant that normally served out of doors, but today was serving on its roof. She lead Haifa to a table, sat down and waited, It would take time for a waitress - since men and women did not mingle alone - to arrive. Shahzadeh asked for one of her favorite things - a dish that consisted raw fish with green vegetables shredded finely, soaked in a creamy vinegar sauce and surrounded by a corn wrap. Marjan, not knowing until Shahzadeh nodded that she was not paying, ordered the same thing. The drank tea and munched quietly for some time.

Finally Haifa asked, as she pushed away long blonde ringlets that fell down beyond her shoulders, "What are my duties?"
Shahzadeh smiled. "I'm like you, I've lost everything." Haifa raised an eyebrow and started to protest, "We are going to be friends," Shahzadeh took Haifa's hand" and though I'm going to have you do chores and the like. I need someone. I'll tell you our little secret, when we get back to my house."

"But they will take everything, I was left with nothing, supposedly a ward and now almost..." Haifa stopped before she lost composure. "You must be very careful, my own story is quite a warning to others."

"You can tell me when we get home." And Shahzadeh casually attacked the rolled up food with a large bite, and munched. Sooh Haifa was happily eating as well, and though she meticulously followed the manners of eating with ones fingers, dipping them in the lemon water periodically, it was clear she had not eaten well in sometime.

When reaching Shahzadeh’s home, Haifa began a very curious look around. The drapes were not in place to divide the house – so what she saw was a square first floor, on her left were the coat and clothes racks, she noticed a mixture of clothes for both men and women, but noted how the woman’s cloths were all the same size, beyond that on the left were a series of shelves that represented a kind of storage place for dried foods and other basic bulk items, and beyond that, an iron spiral stair case which, instead of wrapping around a pole two curving sides, the railings, she noted, were not of iron alone, but were ornamented with brass.

She then turned right, and saw there the china cabinets, and a large double window that opened like a door, beside it on each side were small paintings, of what to her were an usual style, they had a kind of richness of – something, not the bright primary colours of the paintings she was used to, nor were they guilt in gold or silver. They were thicker and with a more, she hesitated to think “natural” style, but that is what she ended up thinking of them as. One was nothing more than a woman cutting fish at a wooden table, her dress sleeves rolled up, her hair pulled back. Her cheeks red from being out of doors, the fish laid in stacks. Just a common scene of a not particularly well off woman. That someone would paint this seemed odd to Haifa.

The second small painting was more reasonable, it was a very well set table, with pewter tabards and mugs, with wrought silver, and overflowing with round rich shapes of fruit. On one plate were fish, cut just as the other painting had them. The similarities in the dark hues, the highlighting, the sense of roundness in space made Haifa feel almost ill with being drawn into them, and yet fascinated. She walked towards them, and then, in the corner of the picture of the woman, she could see a door way – which at first she had assumed was the doorway out, and then saw the corner of the checkered tablecloth of the still life in it, and the curve of the tall central pewter wine tabard, with its oval stoppered top made of glass.

The paintings were by the same person. Interesting.

She then turned right because she saw out of the corner of her eye the large canvas over the wood and wicker china chests. If the two small paintings had puzzled her and confused her eye, this was dizzying, and produced in her a sense of vertigo – it was as if there were a giant window, of one piece of glass, and she were looking out on this whole landscape, of leaves, and a mosque and a particular time of day. She raised her eyebrows and turned to Shahzadeh – “Where were these from? They are… beyond anything.” But Haifa could only half turn to speak, her eyes still roaming across the canvas, falling now on the curve of the minaret, now on the leaves. It was as different style than the domestic painting, it was florid in its use of shape, and its brushstrokes were more visible, unlike the almost smooth surface of the smaller paintings, which seemed to be like glass.

The details called to Haifa’s eye, and she stepped towards the painting itself, each step bringing into view another level of detail. It was not so much realistic, as a vortex of a mind’s eye, that remembered, rather than depicted, the images. There were slight imbalances of proportion, and she noticed, before the mosque, a place where transgressors were hung by their heals, with a post and lintel construction, but it seemed, at first as if post were closer, and then the other. First the lintel seemed to come towards the viewer, and then away. She was now almost up against the painting, staring at this one aspect, no larger than her index finger.

“It does that to me as well.”

Haifa startled. She had forgotten that Shahzadeh was even there.

- - -

The went to the kitchen area, which had a long narrow window, and to the left a series of cabinets, and counter space that flipped out of the wall and down, and then folded back upwards. And then to the left of this was a heavy block of stone, which is the oven. Set in the top were four round stones, which could be replaced by metal to form a stove top. 

Shahzadeh said, “one of our first tasks is to clean out the oven, and put more organization in the kitchen. I have been so entangled in the details of what needs to be done on paper, that I have forgotten I live in a house at all.”

Haifa nodded. “It is very kind of you to do this.”

Shahzadeh shook her head. “No kindness at all, I am, almost, alone in the world.”

They changed clothes to those more suited for scullery tasks, and then cleaned out the oven. It cloaked them both with dust and soot, that clung to the hair and skin, and formed a kind of carapace that cracked and felt like being a molting crab.

Shahzadeh looked at Haifa, her hair streaked with dust and grey. “We,” she paused, “need to get clean.”
Haifa looked at her clothes and hands, and was suddenly self conscious about herself, checking the legs of the puffy pantaloons she wore, and the black marks on her shirt – actually a shirt from Shahzadeh’s father.

“There should be warm water from the roof. We can draw a bath.”

They marched up the stairs to the upper layer, with its higher ceiling and clutter of desk and hammock and clothes lain on dressing table – and in the corner, away from the stairs, a tiled tub, with blue figures painted on glazed white. It was luscious to behold, and Haifa’s skin ached to be clean, her nails were caked with dirt, and her feet tired and needing to be soothed.

She undid the shirt twisting the short rods of wood that were looped through twine – buttons were not generally the fashion among the Kentauri, instead preferring small hooks, so her hands fumbled once or twice.

Shahzadeh saw her discomfort and explained, “It’s Chishan style.” Then showed Haifa the motion that worked, which Haifa instantly duplicated. The trousers were a drawstring affair, around both waiste and ankles, The sound of their dropping on the floor was made Haifa’s skin breath again, and stretch with the anticipation of the warmish water and the scented soap. Removing the last of her undergarments, she arched one foot delicately over the tub and tested the water with her toe. She had not felt warm water in quite so long as to be a memory, and her muscles felt hard from the cold. Her uncle, her so called guardian, had been selling off the warm water from the heater in her father’s house, leaving her with none but what she could heat from the stove, which was little, since she had little money of any kind.

Shahzadeh pulled two sitting towels off of a rack, laid one before her, and tossed one to Haifa, who caught it at the same time she placed her foot all the way down and then almost gracefully, or perhaps like one of the old ritual dances, swung her other leg over the edge of the tub, and plunged it to mid calve in the water. Shahzadeh, not trying such an acrobatic feat, sat on the edge of the tub, and swung herself in . Haifa giggled, covering her mouth with her hand, the fingers hiding the tip of her nose.

“You do that,” a peep of a giggle, “like you are mounting a horse.” Shahzadeh raise one corner of her mouth in a smile. 

And then thought. “Yes, horse riding is one thing I do well.” And resolved to recontinue the sessions of riding after she had money. She had settled her hips firmly down on the towel, and looked, first at Haifa’s eyes, which were still bright with mirth. But then, as people are wont to do, she began examining the other – girl? woman? – person.

What she saw was a face that came to a pointed chin, and had an smooth curve of the jaw to it. She was round eyed, and these were almost green in the fading afternoon light. Her hair was a cascade of burnished blonde looping curls, that reached very delicate shoulders. Haifa, was petite, and her skin the lightest shade of tea with milk that can be imagined. Her faither had been quite light, but her mother must have been fairer still. There was a clear curve of demarcation between Haifa’s face, tanned by exposure to the sun down just past her neck, and the flesh beneath. The face was taught, expectant. Clearly she needs to be put more at ease.

“You have such lovely eyes, and hair – the colour is so unusual.”

Haifa ran her fingers through her hair. “It didn’t used to be this light, but I have been giving lessons, which I do out of doors. Lessons for dancing and deportment.”

“Ah yes.” But the words were merely inserted so that she could examine the rest of Haifa’s figure. Shahzadeh noticed the lithe willowy form of her legs, the curve of the waist into trim hips, how firm the muscles of Haifa’s mid section were, and how her bosom was small and with nipples that seemed as perfect small roses. “What kind of dancing.”
“The court kind, where the woman or man dances alone, and…”

“I know it.” That would explain the shape of her legs, and how all of a piece her movements were. The arms were not thick, but one long line, thin and sinewy. It reminded Shahzadeh of a forbidden memory: in a scroll case her father kept a painting he had not framed, it was of such a nymph-like creature, her small chest exposed, her face turned away from the viewer revealing the most exquisite profile, and displaying, set against a background of trees, such a form. The painting had her feet just turning to roots, for she was chased by a man. Her father had told her there was an old story being depicted, but it was the shape, the elongation, of the woman that had been burned into her memory.

Haifa for her part did not feel any need to cover her examination of Shahzadeh, but allowed her eyes to measure the woman who was now her benefactor. What she saw was a round face, with cat’s eyes, and a nose set in a perfect line. Haifa was aware, all too aware, of the slight asymmetries of her own face, but saw none, or almost none, in Shahzadeh’s. There was also a calmness, a, well, regal would be too much, but yes, nobility, in the way she looked, seldom blinking, and with her mouth relaxed.

Haifa taught dancing, so examining the physicality of another was not a social grace, but a professional skill. She noted the roundness of Shazadeh’s bust, and the rich red oak colour of her skin, which was all of a single complexion. Unlike the faint mottling from acne that Haifa knew was across her own back. “I wish I had your skin.”

Shazadeh had that classic figure from the old illuminated manuscripts, with a rich bosom, and hips that flared outwards. Haifa noted the muscles and strength of Shahzadeh’s legs, they were a bit on the verge of being thick, but this was not a detraction, since her whole hour glass figure was given, thereby, a pedestal, or base.

And then Haifa’s eyes came to rest back on Shahzadeh’s. The two girls giggled, the two women went to wetting sponges and bathing,

“Here, let me help with your back, it is so broken out. You must stay with me, if only to bathe.” Shahzadeh ran the edge between too firm and too soft in scrubbing the skin on Haifa’s back. From there no inch was left untouched by sponge and soap, nor left unrinsed by a second drawing of water.

It was, truly, one of the longest and most thorough cleanings each had ever either given or received.

By the end, night was chasing the last of the twilight blue from the sky.

“Tomorrow we will retrieve your things, I can tell that your living circumstances are not satisfactory.”

Haifa raised one eyebrow.

“You haven’t eaten, you haven’t bathed, you haven’t changed cloths in more than a day. That must mean…”

“I’ll explain, but yes, since I am a ward, and my so called guardian has taken all of the money – there’s nothing.”

“You promised me a story, we should set out chairs and have you tell it.

So she did,  after a long pause.  it had no beginning and no end,  as real stories went.  the world turned in space,  and their was  a commotion,  because this was not the primary world,  but a secondary world,  which steamed on in the backdrop of space.  There is a another story,  back on our world,  which also makes no sense,  but makes sense only in the afterlife of this tale.