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▶  More from Fiction Yusef of the Dusk
Dusk’s Dirge
Scene Two, Yusef of the Dusk

As night fell on the land like a camp girl’s veil, a risen rock betrayed him to he who hunted ahead. The grim panorama of rock rimming the languid sea was ruined by the presence of man. He had not emerged from the waste to meet with man but to mate with woman—this being his overriding urge, to savor life after having dealt with so much death.

In the left-hand distance, in a sand-cushioned bight of rock shore, was moored a dhow, [1] hawsered lazily to an ancient marble stake. He glimpsed this scene for only a moment as he sunk down over the face of the rock instinctively. No bead of sweat started out on his brow, for he had stopped sweating, was drying toward the little death. Even the grease that had built up under his turban these past unwashed weeks had dried, no longer pasting his once red-hued hair to his scalp, but leaving the brown mass drying like hay in the wind.

In the foreground in this dish of land, just beneath the line of sight of those few grim figures before the moored boat, stalked a man, a savage Turcopole [2], withdrawing his lance from the body of a hapless seafaring man caught ashore by the wide-ranging Franks and by this man, one of their pitiless war slaves.

Knowing himself caught without bringing eyes to face, but by way of his night sense, his murder shade, Yusef moaned pitifully and slid face first down the rock, permitting his jewel-hilted shamashar to remain on his back and crawling onward, slowly, seemingly too tired to raise his weary head on his sun-browned neck.

On he crawled as the booted feet which had been treading so lightly before him, picking like wolf paws about the recently dead, stopped, their owner now waiting with cruel patience and poised lance, wary of a trick.

Yusef resisted the temptation to fill his hand with the broken long knife sheathed in his sash, making certain to show each of his empty hands as he crawled wretchedly, so weary from his death-hunted ordeal that minimal mimery was required to convince. For Yusef truly was dying, was within a day of death if no sustenance came to his parched lips.

At last, dust choking his nostrils, he crawled into the shadow of the lance, mumbling, “Water, water…”

Would the lance pierce?

Yes, but the hard, stony earth, rather than his body. No attempt to communicate with the wretched form assumed by Yusef was made as the butt spike of the lance was thrust into the stony ground.

No consoling hand came to rest tenderly on his shoulder. Nor did a ruthless challenge or hate-filled curse snarl from above. The Turcopole scrambled with avarice for the princely sword. A knee came cruelly to Yusef’s back, hard between the shoulder blades, pressing the little wind that remained above his sunken belly from his lungs to wheeze against the hard earth. Thirsty hands tore away the crude scabbard of cloth and sandal straps Yusef had made for the weapon of Indian princes he had torn from the rotting breast of the Frankish ghoul, that thing crawled up from Hell which had once assailed him those few earthly days, yet soulful ages ago...

He measured the strength of the man as half that of the Turk whose life he had so recently taken.

He bided like the newly-wakened dead, thirsty for nightfall.

He moaned more softly, as if in the last stages of delirium, “Water…water…for gold.”

The strong hands roughened, twisted him around onto his back and the guttural speech of that most hated race, came dustily to his ears, “No water for you, dog of a Berber bitch. Gold purchases a quick death—no more!”

With this last word hissed through ivory teeth as the dirty, brown hands ripped open the remains of his tattered robe, Yusef shot two strong hands to the Turk’s round head, even as he sat up like a snapped finger, the ridges of his hard belly grinding against the cruelly-placed knee.

Eye to eye they came—startled Turkish eyes to hungry murder eyes—as Yusef’s strong teeth sank into the nose of his would-be death picker, whose owner brought hands to Yusef’s wrists in a spasm of desperation and was rolled onto his back, gurgling on the welter of blood that ran down his throat as Yusef tore away the snout of a beast that would soon negotiate the folds of Hell without a sniffer to guide him.

Yusef entwined his legs about the writhing waist as he pressed the weltering face into the hard earth, his arms under those of his enemy from behind, his hands pressing on the back of the spike-hatted head grinding life out harshly against the hard belly of the land, the neck snapping before the face stopped scraping.

True dusk fell.

True night rose from the kill.

The recently forlorn man who was once a mason’s son, forever dream-ridden by the Christian hounds that ate his father before his tormented eyes, bloomed like the unfurling heart of a dark wolf who first tastes the blood of the hounds who took his sire.

As he stood, hate-slackened and eerie-hearted, a dirge of low tone whispered to him and squalled to nothingness.

Are those your Hellward wings beating, Turcopole?

As if in answer, the helmeted head rolled on the twig-snapped neck and the noseless fool lolled forever duped, upward rolled eyes seeming to search for her beautiful face, but from a head facing west to the place of the dead, as she rose with the Wise Star over the Lying Sea.

1. A lateen-rigged boat which plied the Red Sea and Indian Ocean since earliest times and may be of Indian or Arabic origin.

2. Turcopoles were Turkish horse archers, some settled locally, some sold as war slaves, and some roving mercenaries, who were employed by crusaders as scouts, archers and light horsemen.

Reverent Chandler: The Saga of Fend

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