Bewildering Stories

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by Tala Bar

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 appeared
in issue 144.

Tamar, Water Maiden of the village of the Three Faces of the Moon, is next in line to become the Lady Mother and leader of the Golden People. When a tribe of gazelle hunters comes from the desert and settles near the Village, Tamar is fascinated by a tall, dark-eyed man among the new people.

The desert folk are very strange: they cover their bodies, and their women remain hidden and mute. The sacred verses of Tamar's people enjoin friendship with all tribes; however, the nomad queen Atir devines a prophecy from the dread omen of the serpent, a vision that she and Tamar both share unbeknownst to one another.

Chapter 2: Strangers
part 1


Five clay buildings, their bases round and their thatched tops pointed, encircled the square of the Village of the Three Faces of the Moon with its centerpiece of great terebinth tree and tall palms: one house for women, their babies and small children; one house for girls and one for boys between childhood and adulthood; one men’s house; and one house for the Lady Mother and her chosen lover.

Nevertheless, the villagers did not actually dwell in their appointed houses, which were windowless, dark and stuffy. Most of their days they spent outside, doing various chores, working in the corn and vegetable patches, gathering food or hunting on the hills in the vicinity of the village; in the evening they sat together around the common bonfire, where they roasted their meals and warmed themselves physically and mentally.

As long as the weather kept warm and dry, they spent their nights outside as well, in the fresh, free air; only in winter, when the cold winds blew and the rains poured from the sky, they found shelter and warmth inside a house. It was the Village itself which was their home; surrounded by a thorny hedge against fierce animals and wild spirits, it served both as a physical and spiritual sanctuary. As a whole, it symbolized the figure of their encircling, protective Mother.

That was how Tamar felt as she hurried down to the Village after her unexpected meeting with the black-eyed stranger by the sacred spring. She found it in a turmoil, its inhabitants gathered home unusually early before sundown; they were standing around in small groups, excitedly whispering or talking aloud, watching, either openly or surreptitiously, the Lady Mother. She was sitting at the entrance to her house in the company of a young man who was her present lover; as long as he was sitting there, no one approached her.

When Tamar arrived, Devora showed her relief; she made a sign with her hand, and the young man rose and walked away with measured steps, knowing his temporary importance, which lasted only as long as the Lady Mother favored him.

When he had gone to mingle with the other villagers, Devora rose and went to sit on the stone seat underneath the terebinth tree, thus indicating the importance of the occasion. “I have been worried about you,” she said to Tamar in her deep, warm voice. “There are strangers about.”

“I think I saw one of them,” Tamar replied, removing the water skin from her head and, having put it aside, sat on the ground at her mother’s side; the old healer, Ya’el, sat on Devora’s other side in company of the old sage Asaf and his young disciple Amnon, Devora’s son; Eyal, the chief hunter, stood behind Devora with his spear erect in his hand as sign of his standing. The rest of the villagers stood at a little distance, listening but not taking part in the discussion.

“Well?” Devora asked, as Tamar did not elaborate.

The young woman shrugged. “Who are they?” she asked, instead.

“They are nomads, desert people who follow herds of gazelle, taking their livelihood from them. I half expected them to appear this year, because the summer’s been so very hot and dry. Their usual water holes must have dried up, so they followed the herd down to the river, as they usually do on such occasions. You are too young to have met them, but I have seen them before. The children foraging in the thicket by the river sighted them, came running to bring the news.”

“I was over on the other side of the mountain, hunting in the hills,” Eyal grunted in explanation, as if apologizing for not having done it himself.

“The children say the nomads have pitched a large tent not far from the river, as if they intend on staying a while,” Devora added.

“We’ll have to send a mission of good will to their camp,” said Old Asaf, “try to find out what they are about.”

“Do you think they might be dangerous?” Tamar asked. The memory of the fierce black eyes was etched on her mind, and she felt a little uneasy.

“Not as a rule,” Devora said comfortably, “but Asaf is right; we’ll do as you have suggested.” She turned to the old man, “And you’ll lead the mission, with Eyal at your side for support. You go with them, Amnon, to learn about the strangers; and you, Ya’el, to make it respectable and to help the men in the discussion. And I also want young Re’ut to go, because she is very good with strangers.”

Tamar, rather expecting to hear her name mentioned, was half glad not to be included in the mission; she felt, not for the first time in her life, that the Lady Mother had sensed her deepest feelings in not including her. At least, she would hear everything from Re’ut, who had been her best girlfriend from childhood. For now, she did not feel it was too difficult for her to be patient, knew everything would occur in its own good time. She had no doubt she would have another chance to see the Dark Man — as she had named him in her mind — although for the moment she did not know when or how.

Half-listening, Tamar heard Old Asaf chanting one of his large collection of wisdom sayings, some of which he had inherited from previous sages while others he had made up himself; the villagers surrounding the leading group listened reverently to the words:

Farming produces patience, and the suspicion of strangers;
Desert wanderings produce harshness, and hospitality;
Flowing water produces softness,
Sand hills produce alienation.
Nomads nurture neighborly relations as protection against violent hostility;
Farmers nurture neighborly relations as a usefull aid for the continuity of life.

What Tamar did not know was the way she had affected the Dark Man...

He saw her dancing on the hills A flitting butterfly.
Every place her foot rested
Flowers sprouted on the bare slope
Red for her right foot
Blue for her left.
These blossomed and withered
And blossomed again
To the touch of her dancing feet.
He saw her dancing on the water
Drops sprinkling around her figure
Sparkling misty water.
Bubbles swelled and burst
Then swelled again
Shiny water bubbles.
He saw her in the light of the moon
A dark dancing image
Twirling round with the wind
With the moon’s face of horror
With the face of a menacing hag
Her eyes shining like life itself.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar

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