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A DAY BEFORE ALL OF THOSE NIGHTS • by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

I’d tell it this way:

In that place, at a parallel moment, a troop of His Royal Vileness’s cavalry reached a village, poor but beautiful, looking for girls with the same attributes. His Wretchedness desired a new toy.

There, ice-clear streams embroidered shimmering mountains; orchards terraced the foothills; even in the heat of summer, you never breathed dust. The girls — eyes like gems set in snow-carved landscapes; noses that were heralds of magnificence, and nectarine mouths promising the soul’s replenishment.

The troop dismounted in the middle of the village triangle (it was too poor to have a square). Behind them a massive, steel-banded carriage rumbled to a halt.

Villagers gathered nervously, wondering what doom had come upon them.

The soldiers swiftly erected a tentlike little pavilion and lugged into it an enormous wood and leather chair.

Two of them, sweating despite the freshness of the breeze, placed a samovar next to the chair.

A tiny sigh rose, hovered above the triangle, and blew away. Such a samovar!

When the fragrance of an exquisite tea was scented, the carriage door opened. A terrifyingly large woman stepped down and seated herself in the pavilion.

The troop captain proclaimed, “His Royal Abysmalness commands us to find the loveliest virgin in the realm, that she may be blessed to delight him! Bring out your finest girls!”

(Daughters are like watermelons. Better sell ‘em as soon as they’re ripe.)

A rumor spread faster than pneumonia: Her Royal Awfulness, the Queen Mother, herself was here to select one!

Girls and their mothers, stretching the triangle till it burst, began fainting to demonstrate their pliancy. One father collapsed too, but he was the one who had stomach-aches whenever his wife was in labor. No one took him seriously.

The rumor wasn’t true, anyway.

Think of her as the Quality Control Supervisor. Pinching, poking and probing, she judged the virginal quality of delectable flesh.

She’d been misfortunately named and that had curdled her life. Bewitched by their newborn’s fluttering little primrose lips, her parents called her Peri Gul.

Which means “Fairy Flower.”

She grew into a volcano, instead. Only her feet beguiled — fragile as a gazelle’s dancing hooves — exquisite tiny bones perpetually cracking inside their pointy little gold-embroidered shoes.

Had they only named her Shaheen — which means falcon — and captured her true nature!

Everyone laughed now, whispering “Peri Gul” — and imagining a djinni struggling to billow from its lamp but caught by the tips of its toes.

***

Some thought the village mayor’s wife, Mahzadeh, ill-named too. “Moon’s child” — for such a plain-faced woman! The moon enchants us with her beauty!

As she illumines the dark night.

Mahzadeh, also a woman of presence, knew the limits of her own pond. She strengthened her nerve and walked up to Peri Gul.

“Great lady, we welcome you. Your long journey must have been tiring. My home has nothing worthy of you, but its aspect, which God has made, is beautiful. Will you sit on my verandah and be refreshed?”

Peri Gul, overfed on others’ obsequiousness, was surprised by those clear honest eyes.

“This isn’t a pleasure tour,” she growled.

“It will shame me forever, that I failed to serve you tea from my own hand,” said Mahzadeh.

Peri Gul felt a strange little devil kick its razor-sharp feet in her heart. Simple  hospitality! His Crassness’s golden wages had never bought her that.

“Where is your house?”

“There, where the slope begins,” Mahzadeh pointed.

Peri Gul jutted her chin at the nervous crowd.

“Let them go back to their work, my lady,” said Mahzadeh; “we’ll summon them again at your pleasure.”

Peri Gul lumbered to her feet, muttering something to the captain. An unsurprisable man, this surprised him. He watched Mahzadeh, a quarter-step behind Peri Gul, guide the way.

A stone and timber farmhouse sat quiet within a curving sarabande of orchard, garden and rock. Peri Gul grunted up the steps and sat heavily down in one of the verandah’s wooden armchairs.

Far below coiled the river, where children splashed water buffaloes in the midmorning sun.

Mahzadeh whispered to her three daughters-in-law, invisible behind the door; soon a tray appeared, with glasses of tea, little dishes of pine nuts and dried mulberries.

“My lady,” said Mahzadeh. “Please take, in God’s name.”

She told her daughters-in-law to start the preparing of a fine pullao.

“I’m not here to dine,” said Peri Gul.

“Let us demonstrate the skills of our girls.”

“They’re not wanted for their cooking,” said Peri Gul.

“How better,” asked Mahzadeh, “to judge the delicacy of their touch and the excellence of their timing?”

Peri Gul, though she hated to admit it, longed for a good adversary.  Food’s joyless without spice.

That pinch on the tender spot enraged her. She exploded from her seat.

“You fence with me, you insect?”

“It’s unforgivable to discomfort a guest. Pardon me,” Mahzadeh said gently, and kissed Peri Gul’s hand.

Peri Gul burst into tears.

***

“Ah,”said Mahzadeh, almost to herself, when they’d finished the last scrumptious morsel, “a woman of property needs no one. Such quince trees those rings would buy!”

Peri Gul stared at her.

“The jam, from an orchard of quinces!”

Peri Gul thoughtfully stroked the gold bracelets on each of her mighty wrists.

***

She summoned the captain.  “I have died of a sudden apoplexy, and these humble people buried me, as custom requires. Let His Wretchedness know.”

The captain stared at her.

***

He summoned his lieutenant. “Great Lady Peri Gul and I have been taken by the flux and died, and these humble people buried us, as custom requires. Go home and let His Monstrousness know.”

***

His Just Dessertedness choked to death, one evening, on a mouthful of Turkish Delight.

***

Peri Gul, seasoned but not done, zestfully produced five daughters (after inviting the captain to marry her). All were delightfully named.

***

“My Falcon!” the captain cried out one night, at a moment of especially soaring passion, “let me call you that forever.  It should have been your name from the start.”


Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on 365tomorrows, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.)


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A DAY BEFORE ALL OF THOSE NIGHTS • by Sarah Crysl Akhtar, 3.7 out of 5 based on 26 ratings
Posted on March 26, 2013 in Fantasy, Stories
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  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    I’m surprised that you didn’t call one of these characters the daughter of the acacia, so crazy they are.

    By the way, quinces make marmalade, not jam. There’s a technical difference of some sort, though I lack familiarity with the details.

  • Gail V

    A delightful story!

  • http://www.chaucers-uncle.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    An adult fairytale? I like it!

    A couple of clunky sentences here and there, but what the heck.

  • http://samanthamemi.weebly.com/ Samantha Memi

    What’s not to love in this. So many lush and resplendent lines, ‘ice-clear streams embroidered shimmering mountains’ and snippets of humour: ‘An unsurprisable man, this surprised him’ to keep the story light and happy. I was glad they realised her name should have been Falcon. 5 stars.

    #1 Marmalade is made from citrus fruits. Quince jam is correct.

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    Samantha Memi, the tactful way of telling me that “Marmalade is made from citrus fruits. Quince jam is correct.” – without implying that I was either ignorant or deliberately lying – would have been to ask me what I found when I checked before making that assertion about quince marmalade. Then I could have retreated silently but with egg on my face if I hadn’t taken that precaution.

    Or, of course, if I had taken that precaution, I could break it to you gently by asking you what you found when you checked, say by googling “quince marmalade”. You did check, right? Or should I point out the implication if you didn’t?

  • http://www.chaucers-uncle.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    LIMERICK

    Sarah’s story is showy, not telly,
    but Some folk say, ‘Not on your nelly
    is the jam on your table
    from marmalade’s stable.’
    So let’s call them ‘preserves’, or else ‘jelly.’

  • Joseph Kaufman

    I wholeheartedly endorse Mr. Freeman’s approach to the what-may-be-put-on-toast-or-bread discussion, so we can probably consider that closed!

    Absolutely love the idea of a town triangle. That’s one of those “wish I’d thought of that brilliant idea!” ideas.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Left me wondering what it was that earned the prince the title Royal Vileness. Wasn’t the village under his jurisdiction anyway? I guess it’s just because some people say so.

  • Carl

    ??? ??? ?? ?????? ?????? ????

    I for one don’t know the difference between jam and marmalade, so I am delighted whichever is correct.

  • Carl

    Dang, please disregard all the question marks above. My clever comment was in a font the system couldn’t recognize.

  • http://samanthamemi.weebly.com/ Samantha Memi

    I also thought the village triangle was a wonderful idea. A village ‘too poor to have a square’ is delightful

  • http://michelle-ann-king.blogspot.co.uk/ Michelle Ann King

    Loved the playful tone, and the titles — His Just Dessertedness, indeed! Really good fun, and a lot of heart.

  • http://madebythepotter.blogpsot.co.uk Chloe Banks

    I really enjoyed this, thank-you. Some lovely lyrical touches.

  • Tina Wayland

    An interesting tale that led me down some fantastical paths. I got a little lost once in a while, but found my way back. Now I’m in the mood for quince–well, something-or-other.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/ipscribblings/ Irena P.

    An interesting tale. I loved the play with the titles.

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