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▶  More from Fiction Yusef of the Dusk
Sailor on the Sea of Got
Scene Four, Yusef of the Dusk

Dusk had good and well fallen, darkening to night as her heavy lids batted, beckoning him sleepily on, staggering with the passion of the earth whore’s dreaming kiss.

Wine—I’d couple with a she-goat for more wine!

He floated bareheaded beneath the moonfaced woman as she rose in the darkening sky.

The rattle of his matchless boots—the best investment he’d ever made—of their horn heels and toe scattering the winded rocks of this accursed land, echoed up to him as her face was besmirched by a cloud, a dirty little cloud rising from the camp ahead, a cloud that rose on the breath of a howl, the howl of a man being seared by the hand of the Iron-Souled man whom the fire and its attendant irons served.

A little war ahead, sot. Bring to bear the harp of war, your pretty little odds shaver in the bloody alley of your sordid life…

The strung bow leaped into his hand, sure as his trencher at porridge time.

The arrows began leaping from the case—oddly placed on his hip over the scabbard, but leaping to his hand all the same—And one rattles at your feet, drunk. Let it be. Stooping to recover it would be embarrassing. An aura of confidence is important.

The camp ahead came alive in shimmering contrast:

The glassy surface of the sea played languid host to the curved prow of the dhow, roped to an ancient mooring post of marble, dully glimmering against the light of the torture fire, where a brand sizzled in the coals, burning off the flesh that had recently adhered to its touch.

Upon the prow was carved the figure of a mailed giant of the Varangians—the foulest fiends under all Christendom—stained and creased with ages of stern northern hate. Why Indian spice merchants would carve such a blasted thing on their prow was beyond his comprehension and soon beyond his care, for hard-hearted men rose from the shadows about the fire.

Their faces gaped in astonishment as they saw a nearly naked man too tall for a Turk, too broad for an Arab, bearing the bow of their brother and slave, respectively, for two were war slaves, and one was a lord.

In the foreground kneeled a moaning wretch, bound and burned, at the mercy of the merciless.

Over all shimmered, pale-lipped, his lover in the night sky, infinity spinning behind her.

Or was that you spinning, teetering fool!

Yusef’s prize boots failed him in this instance, sliding this way and that and splitting him like a Turkish slave boy as one foot went south and the other east, his half-bound manhood smacking the flat stone he had stepped upon.

All for the better it turned out, for the arrow that split his scalp, forever making him ugly to look down upon and insuring that he would give up his navel-kissing foreplay with whores henceforth, would have burst the links of his mail and pierced his guts, had he not fallen like a jester dropped from the sky.

The beautiful singer in his hand thrummed, releasing the knock from his ear and that Turkic arrow took the startled Turkopole in the throat, spraying blood out to both sides as the feather ripped through the greasy neck and the arrow flew on, the enemy archer dropped in his wake.

Drunk as a camel jockey riding for a cruel master, Yusef lurched to the right, the lance of Turcopole lunging forward passing through the arrow case and tearing it clear, to which he responded by knocking another—No, it has dropped. as he made it to his feet and hurled a curse he could not pronounce, knocked a real rather than imaginary arrow this time, and sent it thundering through the helmet, pinning the rim to the forehead as the arrow drove through and through and dragged the wide-eyed dead to earth as Yusef tumbled back and spun on his ass to avoid the “wooshing” fate he had half-heard half-sensed from his right.

The snarled curse of a man of Navarre, if he had every heard such—and he had, as their terrible dogs ate his father alive—came to his swimming ears, “Dog of a Moor!”

The wicked shamashar was in his sword hand, as he clenched so tightly on the haft of the bow that the remaining arrow threaded between his fingers there snapped between them.

Suddenly paranoid that another Frank might be coming on him from behind or the side, Yusef did a whirling dervish step, spinning his blade in a wide arc, as he looked about and then stopped, facing his opponent, certain that the only living men remaining were the tortured man, his sobbing fellow—bound by cowardice rather than ropes—and the hard man of Navarre before him, a man scarred with the hate of bitter feuds, hardened by the cold press of war, turned almost to leather by whatever fates had assailed him in this parched land. Yusef could hardly believe that some band of Franks—after losing Jerusalem—had somehow managed to go a pirating on the Red Sea.

Unfortunately, though Yusef had stopped spinning, the wine had not. Or was it the world that spun, pulling him from his deathbed, as the Frank lunged with murderous intent with that short, heavy lance?

It was my darling in the night sky who pulled me safely aside—you are drunk!

Saved a second time by his drunken state, Yusef somehow retrieved his wits and hooked the heel of the man’s booted foot with the bow and stripped him as the fellow pivoted back towards him with his lance, and Yusef lunged behind him, dragging his foot up and depositing the knight on his back. This man was a Jihadist Frank, a knight, for he could see the cross-bearing murder cloak, the red cross on a once white garment, illuminated by the firelight.

With a grunt, the knight sat up and made to thrust through Yusef’s guts with that heavy lance. But it was not to be. Yusef leaped back and to the right, pulling the foot, caught in the bow between string and upper limb, sending the lance thrust harmlessly to the side. The Frank sought furiously to right himself like an unbroken man being dragged behind a horse and trying to sit up.

The strength of this man, of this leader of men, was considerable and contributed to the tension in his caught foot and made it possible for Yusef to shear the foot from the leg just above the ankle, parting the string and ruining the bow as well, the stroke was so well delivered, the sword singing its undulating song as it parted the various substances in its path.

But the man was made of gushing stone it seemed, as he tucked the stump under him—as if happy for the release of his foot so he could better have at his enemy—and lunged once more with the lance, a thrust that Yusef beat aside savagely with the weighty blade in his hand. He then grabbed the shaft of the lance with his left hand, depressed it, and sheered horizontally with a backhanded slash, a howl of bloodlust tearing open the sky, sending the grim-faced head tumbling from the rusty, mailed shoulders.

Yusef now howled at the moon-faced woman hanging bodiless in the night sky—no, her body was all the cosmos, all the stars twinkling behind her, representing the strands of her hair and the limbs and curves of her form!

Yusef staggered drunkenly down into the camp—a mere ten paces—bringing him to the cruel fire and the eyeless man who knelt burned before it, his cringing fellow cowering for protection beside the tortured man. They were both naked except for a loin cloth, the kin of the slight, dark-skinned man slain by the Turcopol in the depression behind the rise behind him.

The blind man looked up to Yusef along with his fellow, holding a small, folded tapestry between his broken-fingered hands. Yusef thought to lighten the moment with his tried and true camp humor, “So, merchant, this is your boat, which you have sailed from Indian across the Sea of Got?”

The eyeless man—recently eyed—a man of incredible strength of will, answered, “Yes, to he who has so fared, for I sense the breeze of Zanzibar in your voice.”

And it was true, moving Yusef to muse after that coconut-oiled beauty who had shared his mat in that far land.

The war lust leaving him, his long-armored heart wishing for a moment that he might have a friend in the world, seeing in this elder a pained man and further recognizing that an easy trip to India might be had by way of this man’s gratitude, Yusef thought to lighten the mood further, “So, merchant, sailor on the Sea of Got, what does a man of your country know of the heathen Norse and their savage service to the Lords of Constantinople, and why, tell please, would you carve such a likeness enthroned on the prow of your dhow?”

Once again, as if he had never left the hashish dens of Alexandria, Yusef found himself to be the life of the common spirit, the bestowing voice of laughter, as his wit took these men—despite their great recent suffering—like leaves on the wind, and they laughed to heaven, smiling into the night sky as if they too knew the woman who lounged lazily there, the flickering light of the cruelly-stoked fire leaping across their sooty skin like shadows cast by the sun itself.

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Ruben ChandlerJune 22, 2017 6:04 PM UTC