by Tala Bar
Table of Contents|
Chapter 2 appeared
in issue 145.
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 3: The Covenant
For three days the people of the Village of the Three Faces of the Moon were busy preparing for the festive meal. They went hunting and gathering more intensively than ever, and on a constant fire they roasted all kinds of delicacies suitable for a feast. The end of summer supplied the villagers, in addition to the usual meats, nuts and roots, a collection of vegetables, fruits and berries not always available in their fresh form. All these kinds of food were arranged on a table of animal skins spread on the ground at the center of the village.
On the morning of the fourth day, all the villagers were gathered to receive their unusual guests. They stood in two lines stretching from the opening in the thorny hedge surrounding the village, along the path leading up to it. They looked very colorful, their gleaming brown bodies and faces painted cheerful shades of red, yellow and blue, decorated with all sorts of feathers and thorny seasonal blossoms.
Tamar stood at the entrance to the Village, enchanting in a fresh green palm leaf skirt and a garland of dried wild flowers hanging from her neck. Yellow lines encircled her bright green eyes and erect, rounded breasts. By her side stood the Chief Hunter Eyal, looking magnificent with falcon feathers in his thick curly hair and a splendid leopard skin thrown on his shoulder. But the Lady Mother Devora, accompanied by her old advisors Asaf and Ya’el, remained sitting calmly on the stone seat under the terebinth tree. Her face was painted all white with red circles round her eyes and her full, hanging breasts; one eagle feather was tied to her long, thinning hair, and a white goat skin encircled her waist. Her large, warm eyes seemed to be conducting her people even from a distance.
After a while Tamar noticed the small group of people advancing on the road leading from the river to the Village. They walked in a slow measured pace and, as they were drawing near, she saw the mission was made up entirely of men except for one young woman. She walked by the side of the old man leaning on a long staff at the head of the group. The procession was accompanied by a thin, convoluting sound of piping.
In astonishing contrast to the naked villagers, the nomads were covered from head to toe with various kinds of animal skins, from the smallest desert rat to the most magnificent white oryx, including gazelle, ibex and a variety of cats. To complete the covering, the men’s faces were hidden behind thick beards, black on the young men, gray on the older ones. The woman’s face was covered by a fine leather veil.
Tamar noticed among the desert men one distinctly taller than the others, with dark brown rather than black eyes and hair, and she suspected he was Re’ut’s choice. She soon, however, found herself confronting the same pair of black eyes she had encountered by the sacred stream, piercing her again with their direct, fierce stare. Slightly trembling, she nonetheless returned an unflinching gaze from her own eyes, noticing the others’ ferocity melting, turning into a sparkle of laughter. Satisfied, she turned her attention to the task in hand.
At the sight of the guests, a sign was given, the horns blew, and the villagers burst in a loud ululation and welcoming shouts. Tamar waited for the nomad Chief to reach her, then led him to the sitting Lady Mother. As he bowed his head before her, Devora rose and they exchanged greetings. Their languages were similar enough for each to follow the other with no need for an interpreter.
Devora walked over to the table and stood at one of its ends, signing to the Chief to sit at the other, on the leather cushion filled with grass for that purpose; then she did likewise. Tamar sat on one side of the Lady Mother with Ya’el and Eyal, Asaf on the other with Amnon. Looking at the other end of the table, she saw the young woman sitting on the nomad Chief’s side, ‘her’ man on the other, with the rest of the guests scattered around the table, meeting the sitting villagers halfway. The rest of the village people stood around, watching and listening in quiet expectation.
“Lady Devora,” opened the Chief, “we have come to make a covenant of peace. I hope you accept us as good neighbors as long as we stay in your neighborhood.”
“Chief Ze’ev,” the Lady Mother answered, “we are ready to make a covenant of peace with you, and hope you will observe good neighborly behavior as long as you are our neighbors.”
The symbols of peace according to the two peoples were put on the table for their oaths. Devora swore on the head of a young female mountain goat in the name of the Earth Mother Asherat; Chief Ze’ev swore on the head of a mature male gazelle in the name of Yahu, Spirit of the Desert. Tamar then added her oath over a branch of a willow tree and Eyal swore over an eagle feather, both calling for the stopping of rains if they break their words. The nomad woman then swore on a palm-leaf and the black-eyed young nomad on the tail of a lion, calling for the vanishing of their means of hunting if they broke theirs.
After all these words, the time for feasting had arrived and everyone took their fill of the riches of the earth, refreshing themselves with slightly fermented fruit drink; some of the food was passed from the table to the standing villagers, who were happy to take part in the joyful occasion.
Tamar kept deep in her thoughts, eating little but paying full attention to the strangers; she reflected on their motives, their customs and their nature, which were new to her and still, to a great extent, a mystery. All this time she felt the black gaze fixed on her face, occasionally moving to her half-naked body; she had never before thought of herself as naked. Surreptitiously, she noticed him scrutinizing her in adoration, and she accepted his attitude as her dessert. He was the first stranger she had ever met, and thought it better to calculate her steps carefully in order to get the best advantage from it; she was clearly not a spontaneous person in the way her friend Re’ut was.
Having touched almost nothing of the delicacies in front of her, Tamar rose at last and came to sit by Amnon on Devora’s other side; her brother’s solid, consistent friendship had always been her best support in times of doubts.
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar