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Son of Harad: 10. Gâve Narjašn (The Bull's Feast)
The festival of fertility. And the bull, the giant bull, is led through the crowd, down the main street, the Old Road, towards the priests, standing in the Holy Square. This bull – the symbol of fertility. Cheering and singing and the drums beating loud, cymbal-clashes. The bull is led to the High Priest, the Kâhen, everyone is cheering. And there, they will slaughter it as a sacrifice to the Powers and the One, they will cut off its testicles and drain its life and douse the street with its heady blood – Praise! Praise! Glory to Harad!
Honor to Harad! Fight for the jeweled land!
And she sees him across the crowd, just as it is surging down the street, just as the blood gushes from the bull’s ripped throat. Their eyes meet – a flash of blinding sky-colored eyes, pale eyes, green blue greying grey, the eyes – she sees his eyes – he is the pale man! The Northerner! Shock of recognition: this is the pale man she pulled from the desert, nursed, revived, nearly a month ago. She thought he had left. She never imagined he would have stayed in Abbas. Why does he stay?
And the song goes up loud: Praise Harad! Sing to the Great Ones! Let them hear your tiny, mortal voice – if we sing together, They will hear us! Sing! Sing! Sing!
Dancing, the jutting of hips, the twisting of torsos, the shaking of limbs and arms and legs and heads and children laughing, joining in the dance. Banners flying, whipping around as the women dancers pull away, weave, lean forward, backward, sing, laugh. And the masked men jump in, and dance, the dance of pursuit, the lover’s pursuit, and the teasing smiles of the women as they step back, forward. Hips aligned, fingers locked, arms wrapped around slim waists, leaning back.
The fire is lit. The priests raise their voices high – the bull is cut and severed and skinned and placed on the fire, roasting, spitting, crackling. And the smell is drowned out by the incense – all incense – in every window, in every street corner, reddening the eyes of the babes, incense smoke and oiled scents and the bull’s fat sizzling, and the drums beat loud, loud, loud!
She stares at him, he is watching her through the flashing curtain of dancers which divide them. And the crowd is pushing him away, pushing him away, but she can see him resisting, eyes locked with hers, resisting. So he remembers her.
And so begins their dance. The dance of pursuit, of desire – come! Come! Praise the Great Ones and sing to me and catch me! Fly!
She laughs, she smiles, the teasing smile, and leans back. Back, back, back into the crowd, whipping her headdress to cover her mouth, letting her hair spill out, wild, dashing away into the crowd. And she checks behind: he is following, he is dodging, weaving, chasing, chasing after her, pushing through. Her heart begins to hammer out its own frantic rhythm – matching the drums – laughing.
The heat – the heat – the heat – the smoke, and the incense, and oiled scents mixed with the sweat of a thousand Haradrim, and the sand kicked up from the dancing, all mixing together, blurred. So that she must blink away the red-yellow-white dust to see him again: there! There! Closer! He is pushing through, and someone leans forward, spits fire to his left, and a banner is flung, twirling madly, and the drums beating loud, loud, loud!
Run! Run! Run!
He will catch you!
The drums are faster now, faster, and her heart is racing, racing with her feet – as she weaves and dodges and spins around to tease him with smiles – ha ha! Yes! See him follow, intense, desirous. The dance of pursuit. And the lust is dripping thick – a festival for it!
A mob of children, trampling, twisting, their own festival between the legs of adults, laughing shrill. And the bull is ripped to shreds, gnashing teeth, mouths sticky-slick with fat, and the crowds surge forward, towards the priests, towards the spit-fire bulls.
Come, my love! Dance with me!
She pulls away into another street, checking over her shoulder, running amidst the mob, and everyone’s arms are up, dancing, shackling jewelry and this is the glory of Harad. She checks behind: there he is, getting closer, very close, as he nudges, and pushes, and squeezes through the crowd after her. Another smile; another laughing smile, calling him forward. She has caught a pale man – a pale man, a Northern jewel, and she can see his face caked in the sand, so that he is a uniform dusty yellow, with the pale eyes burning through. She laughs – such a handsome love! The exotic North! Such eyes! Come!
And so she flees from the crowd, pulling free of the thousand grasps, and flees into the empty portico leading away into the alley by the arch near the tiny, tiny open piazza and the long steps leading down, leading down, so that she must skip down them one at a time, they are so large.
He follows her. She can hear his steps behind her, hear his steps echoing, fast, heavy, uneven. Because here the music fades, everyone is moving towards the center of Abbas, the city’s largest street, but she, instead, is running away, down this arching alley, closely followed by the pale stranger. Lines of drying clothes connecting the windows above them. A wind blows through, carrying the festival scents.
She hurries down, down, down, until – the hidden corner, a hidden portico, small, hidden, no one can see. And there she stops, and turns, and watches him descend awkwardly after her – the steps are wide, long. And when he slips, slides, lands in front of her, grinding to a halt, he is only a few feet away. And they stare at each other, both breathing hard – it was a good chase – and listening to the festival music beating loud above them.
Another wind passes. Cooling them.
So close, she can see him well now. His face is covered in sand, and his hair and beard, caked with it. Dark lines of sweat trail down his temple. She had nearly forgotten how handsome he was. How old he was. She had nearly forgotten the scars. Who is this pale man? Where does he come from?
He is also watching her. Staring at her, breathing from the mouth, chest rising and falling. A predatory stare – looking her over entirely – and she the same, taking in his chest, stomach, arms, legs, groin.
They do not speak.
Another wind, another wave of the heady incense, perfumes, spices. The bull burning. Burning with fire, and passion, and this is lust, lust, lust.
He snarls, lunges towards her, and they collide, teeth smashing, a kiss. Violent, painful, grabbing at everything, anything, squeezing and clutching and sucking and twisting. She digs her fingernails into his grimy hair, pulls. And he wraps his arms around her, pushes his hips into her. The teeth – blood is drawn – a bite – and he is moving down, dragging his tongue down her neck, licking. While his hands: ripping aside her skirt in clumsy haste. And she grabs him, and they move back, slam against a wall.
And the dunes rolling silent, roaring! Praise the Great Ones for the passions and the smoking meat of the bull – a sacrifice, a sacrifice – and…
He groans, and the portico is empty, and now she cannot tell what is hers and his and the robes, the cloth, twisting and dampening with sweat, and he pushes forward, pushing up, the wall is digging into her back, and…
Tasting iron blood on his tongue, and sand in his hair, and salt on his face and neck, and the prickling beard, and pulling him forward, hard, and the drums beating faster, louder, and…
And – and – and…
They must stifle the cry, but something slips out anyway, just a hitched grunting escape. And they sink down, and he leans forward, legs trembling, and she places her face in his shoulder, smelling the coarse fabric. It is all finished, spent. And they would slide down here, to lie here, to collapse, but her home is not far – and so she pulls down her dress, pulls at his robes, covers him – for he is too weary – takes his hand, pulls him along, and they hurry unevenly to the next building and slip into the door and up, up, up the stairs and then, the bed –
He falls onto the bed, and she moves over him, moving aside the robes, tasting the thigh, the stomach, the scarred chest, a pale trail amidst the curled chest-hair, a ragged line cutting through a nipple, and she tastes this scar – and he shudders and pulls her to him, and they kiss again, rough, but slower now. And he pulls away the dress he ripped, pulling it gently now, over her head, and…
From the open window, the music drifts in, the smell of spices on the bull, all drifting in. The sun sinks, golden shafts illuminating the opposite building, so that their room is a cool shadow.
For the second time, it is finished.
Falling back into the sheets, seeing the body glisten with sweat. The sand in his hair, stiffening it. She trails her fingers lightly over his flank, shoulder blade, neck, chest, while he watches her, blinking slowly, tired. She shudders, but not from any cold, moves closer.
They lie so for several moments, new lovers, yet as familiar with each other as if they were pulled from the earth together. And a leg wrapped around, and an arm hugging, and the sheets have tiny granules of sand, and are drying with the sweat in them, capturing the scent.
Movement. Flapping. A tiny bird, just a confused blur, soars in, silent. Small, fragile, childishly lovely – it falls back out the window as soon as it has entered.
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