Wednesday, May 30, 2012
“His Majesty is having a rest! I’ve an order not to let anybody in.” Heard from behind the tent cover, the young voice of the guard officer is so emotional that nearly slipping in falsetto.
“I’ll be waiting here… in the chair. You may not announce my coming. I won’t make noise, I promise.”
His voice! He’s returned! Great Gods! At long last. I am so happy that nearly run out to meet him despite the poignant pain in my leg and the last long sleepless night. I wonder how much I have slept. The endless columns of figures, those estimates, reports, petitions, messages… I hate all this! My eyes must be red like a white mouse’s. I get slowly up and take a seat to look at myself in the looking-glass. A scarecrow. Pale, thin, unshaven, with the disheveled hair. Looking like this, how can I come out to him?! Why he never sent a messenger? Is anything wrong there? My heart is throbbing, I’m in hurry, and the comb gets entangled in my long locks. Gritting teeth, I struggle with my desire to take a sharp knife. Oh dear! If it were not for you, I would cut off all the mess on my head! Failing setting my hair, I’ll disentangle it, at least.
Now, the third voice is heard from behind the tent cover. It’s Cassander, “How cheeky you are! You’ve been said that he’s having a rest! Why have you dragged yourself here? We enjoyed being without you.”
“Ably.” The calm reply is heard. “I’m so interested in your point of view, Cassander. Next you have to say how much you love me.”
“I’ll say if someone wishes…” the distinct sound of an unsheathed sword makes me draw up.
“You have a new sword? Most interesting. Can you use it?” Hephaestion’s voice rings with notes of scorn. “Be careful lest you cut yourself. Virtually, you should ask your father’s permission to use this sharp thing or else you can get it in the neck for taking his things without asking.”
A tense silence falls. I know it’s but altercation which cannot result in anything serious, but every time I hear of the bad blood I have to suppress my wish to rush upon and give a good shaking to “the dearest of my friends who has been brought up with me and shares all my secrets.”
“You are right, Hephaestion,” Cassander’s voice sounds calmer now, “Where should a king’s mat be but not under his master’s foot.”
“If there is anything enviable. I’m a general and not a hetaera!”
“Roughly. You hit below the belt… Cassander.”
Silence again. I pull on my woollen tunic. Not got used to wearing pants, I have to wear this garment in order to hide the bondage on my bad leg; besides, it’s much warmer, for I feel cold all alone, since recently. Checking up the knot of the pants, I mentally curse the high boots which I’ll have to lace. Wincing I pull on one boot. My ankle is swollen and the back presses on the wound. Oh Gods! Lame in one leg, how will I be walking today? Succeeding in lacing the boots somehow, I stand up and nearly fall down with the poignant pain. Sending to Tartar the boots, which have become too tight, I pull them away and for several minutes my feet have to get accustomed to the sense of freedom. The pain pulses but passes off; my breath normalizes. I’ll have to walk over the frozen soil being barefoot--no matter--I won’t put on boots again.
I stand up saying to myself that the ache is bearable and the cold of the soil is not so awful as it seems at first. The several steps to the cover, which partitions off the other part of the tent, I make forcing myself to forget of my own legs, and my thoughts of him help me to succeed. He’s there and awaiting my coming! Carefully I move the folds of the cover apart.
Cassander is nowhere about. Hephaestion is sitting in the chair sideward to me. His heavy furred cloak is thrown onto the next chair. Stretching out his slender long legs and bending his head thoughtfully, he contemplates his right hand nails. The familiar long deep-red tunic and light leather panoply with cupper straps. His gauntlets are on his cloak and his Greek greaves still protect his lower legs. He looks weary. A stray lock from his hairdo tickles his cheek, and the gesture, oh so familiar, lets the lock through his fingers and puts it behind his ear. I’ve been missing him so badly that I feel giddy. I throw back the cover and step forward. “Hephaestion! I did not expect you today.”
Casting eyes up slowly and thoughtfully as though weighting my words, he stands up, makes a bow as though in presence of my all courtiers, then he stands straight, and I notice a shadow of a smile on his lips. But it’s only a shadow, and his eye is serious and bleak. Obviously, he is waiting for my permission to begin speaking--and I am beginning to get angry. Why to play? Why does he observe etiquette here and now? “I suppose the matter is pressing, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here, right after arriving.” My speech is calm but his coolness passes to me and begins ringing in my voice.
“Yes, my Lord,” the polity reply ensues.
“Well… What’s happened?”
“It’s all over with that.”
My heart sinks. He’s been at the secret talks with the council of the highland tribes. They should decide to take our side, otherwise we have months of blood-shedding arm conflicts ahead, and we could forget of continuation of our march. Now, he’s returned. “And so… What should we expect?”
“We? I don’t know. And you… You should expect the envoys, who are coming for making peace, the day after tomorrow. And today…” Hephaestion’s eyes burn with the blue flame of desire, “…my scolding for your walking barefoot, today, when it’s freezing hard, and…” he gets close to me and the rest of the phrase he breathes out into my mouth, “… the most hot sex my Lord could ever imagine.”
I can’t reply to his escapade, because his hot lips cover mine, my pulse rumbles in my ears, and my arms embrace his strong neck. He carries me in his arms without stopping the kissing. My last distinct thought is “Why did I dress with the excessive care?”
Lara Biyuts © 2011
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Saturday, May 19, 2012
Part 3. The Shadows Call
“It’s not over. It’ll never be over.”
(Sheriff of Nottingham)
Day Outlasts Century
Solemn and stooped, wearing a long dark array from top to toe, the priest was reading aloud the solemn incantations that resounded through the spacious dimly lit cave. The ornament of mysterious signs over his ritual array was carefully elaborated, and his tall faceless figure along with the formless shade looked enormous in the flickering candlelight. The vaults of the cave had former pomposity no longer, but they still thrilled impressible minds: the frescos of scenes of initiation to a weird cult, a rose-crowned matron sitting in a chariot drawn by lions in the central fresco, the filigree of the pilaster capitals. A small saline lake in the middle of the cave looked strange here. Bubbles appeared on the lake surface from time to time, and the air smelled of sulphur. Taking no notice of the ancient decoration’s beauty, the priest chanted the sacral texts, and acolytes or hired bodyguards heeded him, silently standing at the entrance. Now the text came to an end, and nothing special ensued for several seconds. Doubts rose in the priest’s mind: whether he read the texts correctly? was anything wrong? And now, the lake water rippled; the oil-lamps’ flame flashed up; somebody gave a screech. “Belarriss!” exclaimed the priest. “Magna Mater! Goddess! We resuscitate you in order to worship you, to rebuild your temples so that the cult of the goddess Belarriss again…” The water seethed, the air sparked, and a pillar of a luminescent substance rose rapidly taking shape of a human.
“Is there a woman here?” a loud imperious voice was heard.
“Excuse me, my lady?” The priest threw back the hood of his array, and one could see he was a very handsome young man about twenty-five, six-foot tall, with a dark fringe a la Paul McCartney over his forehead and with young Paul McCartney’s radiant, happy and a little bit silly smile.
“I can see only men here,” explained the voice toning down, “What do the present-day women wear?”
“Oh my lady, you are beautiful… The flaming-heart is the divine aura that one feels shining from your beautiful face, the star and emblem of female beauty, which is the heart of your grace and the emanation of your power…”
“How do you know beauty, you slave?!” She gestured to one of the bodyguards. “You! Having anything to say?”
“My humble… I…” began the bodyguard taking something out of his black leather jacket pocket, “I have a photo. Maybe it’s of use…” He approached, held the photo out to the reborn goddess, and bowing he retreated.
The goddess examined the image of a young woman wearing blue jeans and a white ruched blouse, and then she asked, “Is she reckoned beautiful?”
“Yes,” the bodyguard nodded, and he quickly added, “Yes, Goddess.”
Belarriss dropped the photo, losing interest to it, and before everyone’s eyes she began changing: her hair got shorter and blonder, modern day clothes began delineating over her form, her skin got a golden suntanned. Her features were not like the girl’s in the photo, but the similar maquillage covered her face now. Finishing the conversion the goddess turned to the priest, “What did you resuscitate me for?”
“Oh Miss Belarriss!” the priest came to himself after astonishment, “My intention is pure. Longing for transcendence I’ve decided to make you free, purely for restoration of justice. But if Goddess wants to have a faithful servant and trustworthy adviser…”
“Do you know of my story?” she asked.
“Yes, Goddess. I know what I’ve found out in the forgotten sources. The goddess Belarriss ruled the country for five generations. One day, she conceived conquering the world. During one of the campaigns the citizens of the country revolted, and some bigots contrived to overthrown Goddess, and they imprisoned her essence in the bewitched cave.”
“Don’t you think it’s served me right?”
“Nobody dares check Goddess.”
“I expect, you’ve drawn any conclusions?”
“Oh yes, Goddess. Astonishing conclusions,” the priest’s smile was subtle now.
A bat slid noisily across the ceiling and disappeared in the dark passage.
“Not a word more!” said the goddess. “You’ll get your deserts and your desideratum, and now… Leave me alone.”
Taking long views, the priest did not object, although plans of conquering the world flashed across his mind one by one. No hurry: the main thing had been done, and all the rest was a matter of his cunning and legerdemain. Undoubtedly, it was a forlorn hope to deal with the petticoats; on the other hand, he had no choice. He said bowing, “I’ll come tomorrow by night, if Goddess would like.” The priest walked to the doorway, nodded to his acolytes, and they left the chamber.
Alone, the goddess said, “Ad calendas graecas… No denying, he is a clever rouge, but even a wise man stumbles, Homer sometimes nods.” She waited till the footsteps died away, then she slid lightly down on the floor, and at the moment, her foot in the shoe with stiletto heel turned awkwardly, and she nearly lost her balance. The walls of the cave resounded several ancient curses, yet Belarriss braced herself up and attempted making one more step. “How do they walk in these shoes?” she muttered, “What has happened to the world, if inconvenience has become attractive?..” Presently, Belarriss was at home in the situation, being able to walk around the cave more or less easily.
Time and marauders did not spare the place of her tomb. The goddess hardly could recognize the luxurious burial chamber, and she thoughtfully tried to guess where there were her favorite jeweled gold goblet, chryselephantine throne and all her jewellery now… All the things remained in the dim and distant past. Vexed, she uttered several phrases, and if the priest were here, he would heard, “…Dunces! When on earth the idiots, the megalomaniacs will finish? They know what happened to me. Are they about to go the same way? But I know where it leads to,” she sighed deeply, glanced round the cave for the final time and walked to the exit.
The trace of treads was visible on the ground; the woman walked along the trace, and in two hours she saw an asphalt road. An hour more and she saw the service station where there were a small coffee house and shop. She came in the coffee house.
A man at the counter paid off for his meal that was on the tray. Belarriss put his hand in the pocket of her jeans and several banknotes materialized in her hand. “Same for me, please,” she asked the waitress.
The waitress nodded and took the money. “Here is your change. Go to the table. I’ll bring the tray to you.”
Belarriss went to a table and sat down on a chair, squinting at the man who ate with the help of his fork.
Her meal proved to be substantial and even tasty, only the potion, called “coffee”, was disgustingly too bitter. “No, it’s not pharmacon nepenthes, far from it,” but Belarriss drained her cup dry in order not to look particular. In general, the morning had begun fairly well. The air outside smelled of autumn, but the grass was still fresh and leaves were green. “It’s midi-August,” the goddess supposed. Coming out of the café, Belarriss stood still at the road, thinking where she was to go now. Her reflection did not last for long: a heavy van stopped before her, the door of the car opened, and the driver asked friendly: “May I give you a lift?”
“I can take you home. Where is your home?”
“My home… Nowhere, as I think. My intention is to see the world.”
“It happens fairly often,” the driver nodded, “I'm going to Ancile. If you want, I can give you a lift. No harassment, upon my word.”
The woman shook her head smiling, “That’s not what I worry about. As I think… you are either married or engaged.”
“Right.” The driver helped the woman to get into the car.
“What is your fiancée’s name?” she asked.
“What a coincidence… I am called Lily-Radda too.”
“What are you?” the driver turned the ignition.
“Goddess,” said Belarriss wearily, thinking nobody could believe her.
“Such things happen from time to time”, the driver smiled without opening his lips. He got used to listening to somebody else’s secrets or outpourings, and he was not importunate, “You look sleepy. Lean back and doze off. Nothing interesting you will see for some time.”
The bright summer landscape rolled past the window. Belarriss followed his advice, and in a minute her breathing got deep and calm.
A sleeping goddess was a usual sight in this part of the world, just nobody took it seriously.
to be continued.
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Tuesday, May 08, 2012
Now imagine: the 1920s, Paris by night…
The small brightly lit café is white, cozy, douillette, with windows and doors covered with reddish-rosy velvet. The café patron is a chic swarthy man wearing a dinner-jacket, white shirt and patent-leather shoes with white uppers. He wants nothing to be visible or heard outside, and every now and then, with his well groomed hand, graced with glittering rings, he straightens the close velvet of the windows.
It’s one at night. Theatre shows are over, and the elegant smelly automobiles and cabs drive up to Bar Auguste in the dubious small lane in Montmartre. The door opens every minute. Gentlemen wearing tailcoats; ladies wearing evening dresses. Two mirrored walls vis-à-vis multiple reflections of everything and everybody between them.
Sounds of matchiche are heard from the corner where the musicians’ jackets show red. Snaking, the middle-aged, clean-shaven Hautero dances with Babette. Babette turns his head to look at himself in a mirror, every now and then. He loves himself. He is concerned in his accurate kinky hair: the perfect hairstyle should not be disordered. A strange hair, it looks like a wig of false astrakhan or like our soldiers’ hats. Hautero (he is… dressmaker) is draped with a Spanish large serape. The café is crowded, and the serape’s long fringe gets caught on the guests’ buttons. Hautero has a black trilby on his head. A red rose is in his teeth. Clicking ivory castanets, Hautero looks fascinated by dancing. He enjoys the attention of the chic guests, who are numerous tonight in the brightly lit room; besides, he loves Babette and clings to the young man, snaking languorously.
Loud applause. The patron applauds looking askance at the door. “Bravo, Hautero!” the guests shout, and two ladies invite him at their table and ask to have a glass of champagne. One of the ladies has canotier and a coat on, a starched collar props her sharp chin; she has a cigarette in one hand, her other hand embraces her neighbor, a nice-looking pale girl, brightly lipsticked. The girl has rich flaxen-coloured hair; on her fingers she has such a great amount of rings that she seems to be metal gloved. The bebe style white frock.
“Lily!” Hautero compels her, “Sing for us!”
Mincing Lily goes to the middle of the room. Her friend never takes eyes off her.
But there is a small misunderstanding. Adolph, a lovely youth with dark languid eyes is tired of sitting at table with a German. The German treats Adolph to beer; the man hardly can speak French; actually, he looks rude, boring, uninteresting. Now, a Pole wearing a tailcoat and top-hat throws a rose across the table to Adolph. The youth puts the rose in the buttonhole, comes to the Pole and kisses the man on lips. The German takes offence and becomes insolent to the Pole. Who knows what would come of it but for the sophisticated patron. Confused not in the least, he knows whose side he should take with: the Pole spends hundreds francs for champagne every night in the cafe. The patron speaks energetically about something to the German. The angry man turns red and goes to the exit; everyone laughs and whistles after. Adolph laughs especially loud, however he is looking at the Pole no longer--now he looks occasionally at three clean-shaven Americans with thick cigars in teeth, who watch dully and imperturbably what’s going on. Lily has nearly taken alarm but she calms down and begins to sing in a thin voice a sweet song, throwing her eye up at her friend. Amidst the men, the singer is not a success, but the chic ladies of demi-monde bend and begin to explain something to their tired elderly boyfriends, and then they applaud softly with their hands wearing long white gloves.
Babette announces he wants to sing too. But it’s the same old story: being engaged in himself too much he demands everyone to keep silence while he sings. As if on purpose, talks arise amidst the listeners as soon as he begins to sing. He grows angry and becomes silent. To take offence affectedly, to make a little moue of plaint is profession of the kinky lamb Babette. One of the guests, a young artist crosses out his funny well-meant caricature.
Like Lily, Babette loves sweet sentimental songs. Pressing his hands on his bosom, he sings of unshared love, of men’s heartlessness. But Lucien is quite another matter; the young man dislikes the sloppy endearments. His baritone is not bad at all. Opening his eyes wide, looking seriously, he shoots out the free-spoken things that in virtue of their specific character hardly can be comprehensible, at times. Most spicy bits he underlines with gestures. His listeners enjoy.
The Pole laughs especially loud. He has forgotten of Adolph and invites the mettlesome Lucien at table. However, there are two Luciens. The second one is a modest, non-singing boy about eighteen or may be younger. The young Russian artist, the enigmatic habitué (“enigmatic” because nobody, including Hautero, knows his name here, though everyone here has got used to him and loves him) calls the second Lucien to sit at our table. Hautero, who is tired of dancing, sits at our table too.
The artist presents little bouquets of violets to Hautero and Lucien. Lucien is so stupid that he doesn’t know what he should do with his bouquet. Lucien is stupid to utter perfection--not only to innocence, but even worse, to ultimate virtue. He hardly can speak. He just smiles with his fresh childish lips. His eyes are either an infant’s or a deer’s, very beautiful. Being slightly confused, an elderly Russian writer admires the eyes; yet the man doesn’t look for a wit, being content with his own, as for adolescence, Lucien has it to your heart’s content. Really, what for a wit, if there are freshness, beauty and virtue? “Gha-a…” Lucien smiles. “J’aime tout le monde…”
And Hautero is not stupid at all. He doesn’t mind philosophizing, pretending to be une cocotte chic, as usual--as usual, repeating female feline grimaces. His face is whitened like a mask. The nostrils of his flattish nose swell; he puts the violets and round green leaves in his ears. He has tousled the little bouquet to parts.
“Life is good, isn’t it, bon camarade?” I ask.
He makes a small bow on one side, “Good, because there is always hope.”
“Hope of what?”
“I don’t know. Is that of importance? O, speranza, speranza!”
“You lie”, I think, “You know the old age is coming; you know that at your art of ‘dressmaker’ you need adolescence as nobody else; even une cocotte chic, even she keeps her fortune longer than you…”
Some movement. A new face. A boy, well-dressed, uncommonly beautiful, perhaps a Spaniard. His eye is confused, alarmed and somewhat badgered. He looks round. Hautero jumps up pushing Lucien neglectfully. The Spaniard is encircled. Another moment he is jammed. What next happens to him?--presently--I don’t know.
The musicians have nearly begun to play a gipsy romance, but they are interrupted with everyone’s demand of “matchiche”. Snaking, someone goes to dance again… Lifted arms sway in the dove-coloured air…
Well, what comes next? We seem to do all tonight--both singing and dancing--and all is good, in friendly way… But there is a new guest: a little old woman in black with a little reticule in hands. She looks like a usual parishioner of a church. A woman like she stands at a chapel and moves her lips telling her beads. But there is not a chapel here, and the old woman has a pack of cards in hands instead of beads. She is a fortune-teller.
The well-dressed ladies are glad. At their table, the fortune-teller shuffles the worn, greasy cards. The elderly tailcoat-clad boyfriends put monocles in eyes and pretend to be interested in the fortune telling. The ladies laugh loudly.
But some of the guests are off. The Pole went away along with the little Adolph, because he finally preferred Adolph to Lucien; Lucien followed them with envious eye. Hautero rushes about tables, arranging things: “About twenty!.. Take my word for it!.. He overcharges!” The patron glances at his watch. Chasseur calls automobiles, cabs. The musicians make their round with a plate in hand; the waiters give the fantastic bills.
“C’est curieux, c’est tres curieux,” say the elderly tailcoat-clad boyfriends, who have become thin and hollow-cheeked, at once, and throw the unbelievable fur-mantles on their ladies’ shoulders.
The boulevards are silent. The high Windmill is lit with red and blue irritating lights no longer. The Windmill is waiting for the next night, waiting for the warm wind of the human… no, Parisian lust. The roundabouts turn no longer. The rosy boars, which the happy screaming people rode the night long, now are covered keeping silence.
The gaunt, sallow-faced conductor takes tickets of the not numerous passengers of the last metro. The horse drawn carts full of vegetables move slowly along the desert streets. There, the soft-green cart full of cresses; and over there, the orange one, full of carrots. A Parisian doesn’t look at the carts. It’s for tomorrow. And tonight, it’s time to go to bed. All in good time; and days must be harmonious--a sleep after a spree. The harmony of the world is a great thing!
That’s true. So what? Nothing special. I don’t draw a conclusion. I just take a photograph.
Translator: Larisa Biyuts
Translator: Larisa Biyuts