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▶  More from Fiction Yusef of the Dusk
The Wine Skin
Scene Three, Yusef of the Dusk

Yusef, fugitive from High Navarre, Thief of Valencia, Killer of the Rift, Man Hunter of the Atlas, Pimp of Tunis, Brigand of Tripoli, “a man one could count on” of Alexandria, Scourge of the Man Eaters of Cairo and Misr, traitor to the best man who ever trusted him, and finally re-killer of the rotting dead, stood like Death himself above the stone-startled Turcopole, forever descendent at his feet.

As the wine of Death soaked the ground beneath his matchless boots, and he tore away the remainder of the rag that had once been a proud garment, Yusef recalled the eyeless boy running with the cleaned skull filled with rooted eyeballs and decided never again to touch boot to any land which touched rock to that reeded land. It was off to India for him, never again to taste the dust of Sinai, Misr, Cairo or any of the Berber-infested dens where he had made his murderous name.

At his foot lay a well-clothed and armed foe. The clothes repelled him, smelling as they did of enemy kind. But the mail vest, the wide sash, the wicked, long dagger, would compliment his shamashar, for which he appropriated the scabbard of the Turk’s scimitar—a hand too short, but a better home for a blade than a twisted rag.

The lance was not a weapon of his hand, and so he scorned it.

To his left, as the bright moon rose before him and the western sky glowed sky blue above the lands he wished never again to tread to his back, Yusef, whom his closest boon companions had never accused of compassion, and whom a hundred whores could boast of his passion, looked down upon the dead done to dust, slain only moments ago by the now draining foe at his feet.

The man was of dark aspect, as dark as the black men beneath the sands of the Sahara, but not made in their mold. The fellow was thin, had been spry in life and now gray in death, and was pierced through the heart from behind by an impressive Turkic arrow, an arrow tipped with wicked black iron, protruding needle-like a foot from the fugitive breast. Based on the calloused hands and wide splayed feet of the fellow, taken together with his brine-weathered face, Yusef knew he looked upon a sailor of the seas. In the corded belt of the lone, silken garment was sheathed a hooked knife. Between his death-frozen hands were clutched a small sack and a wine-skin.

The wine-skin spoke to Yusef like a ruby-lipped slut under the rising moon, and he tore it rudely from the dead hands—the sack spilling its figs at his booted feet—and poured the sweet contents of the dreaming fruit down his parched gullet.

Drink slow or swell like a blister, fool!

No—Yusef drinks deep in the night!

Drink little or teeter like an idiot to your death.

Let Death spread her legs, that tawdry princess!

Drink, drink, drink—by the Deliverer and his God who hates you, drink!

Deliverer, this is good. Yusef, the only thing you ever did so stupidly as admitting to being born son of a Jew was pretending to be a rug-kissing Moor.

This one called you a Berber, after your enemies. You must wear their demise well.

Yes, Yusef the Berber, drunk from his mind—sin for me whore world; mother of my misery, spin for me under the smiling moon!

Yusef was staggering drunk and feeling like the man that held the vault of the heavens on his hairy shoulders all in one skin; the powers of the spheres had been transferred from the hide of some unlucky goat into the hide of the luckiest bastard of the most luckless land on earth. Yusef of No Name, a man no one could once count on when the starving mobs of the dusted world fell to eating one another like so many famished jackals, was now in his astral mind, achieved through imbibing the nectar of some blood-beckoning land, standing transformed into a man one could count upon, a man uncountable, a man apart.

Being counted has brought you nothing but Death’s narrow gaze. Be uncounted. Be the star that does not twinkle, the moon that does not rise, the sun that does not shine, the wind that does not whistle before the storm. This sweet wine is so…gone.

Yusef stood reeling, the pretty-faced maiden in the sky smiling her eyeless smile down at her fool admirer.

There it was, the harp of war, the singer of the feathering song, a strong Turkish bow in its case, along with a quiver holding six consorts, bespeaking a recent battle for six, and the seventh arrow skewering this Indian sailor, was far less than the compliment one of these horse-born stinkers would typically carry on the hunt, on a scout and especially to war.

This pack of jackals lost a battle and made off with a dhow, a dhow sailing one hand short and one scout blind.

Thirsty I remain.

Wine, yes, more wine.

Yusef, a man of no particular past, and a brutally particular future, hefted the harp of war, slung its case and arrows—leaving the dry wine-skin to water whatever dark dreams the ghosts of this dead land did dream.

Reverent Chandler: The Saga of Fend

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