Work in Progress
Working Title: Syria635
Since the consensus of last weekend’s poll was enthusiasm for the occasional excerpt from my Work in Progress, I offer the first today.
I hope these snippets will give you a taste of what is to come. I will also use them as references to discuss writing processes and research challenges along the way.
The following was lifted from roughly halfway through the story—a glimpse of the world I inhabit for as many hours per day as I can cobble together.
Year: 636 AD. Location: Syria.
Mariam is fourteen years old, was married briefly, widowed, and is now a captive with a caravan heading east across the desert to Persia. The prior day she got into a shouting match with a crazed stylite (a solitary ascetic perched on a tower spouting prophesies at the people below.) The prior evening, she was asked to sing for the men. She didn’t appreciate it. This time, she has other ideas.
As expected, Behrouz demanded Mariam entertain the men around the fire. She wrapped herself in the old cloak and focused on her task, even tried to smile a little, put something more into it. Several locals had greeted the caravan, their donkeys laden with wineskins. If she pleased her captors, they might drink more.
She sang Horace’s “Ode to the Wine Jar”, hoping it would encourage them. Then an Aramaic camp song that she remembered Alex and Hassan singing in the family courtyard. She forced down the grief that thoughts of him brought with them. She swayed a little, moved her hands to give some expression to her performance. Although a mix of dialects, the men all understood Aramaic. Some recognized the tune and sang along. They demanded another and she sang a lullaby, seeing that they were all now reclining.
Finally, she sang the “Twenty-Third Psalm”, this time allowing her own emotions to flow. Although she was not sure that the Lord was with her, she held out a small hope and prayer that the mad preacher’s words were not true, that she would not need to return from Babylon because she would not reach there. The Lord would help her escape beforehand.
The men, whether Arab, Greek, or pagan Persian, were all drunk and caught up in the glory of her voice. Several stretched out, feet to the fire, heads on their arms, relaxing into their wine-filled slumber. Others watched her or the star-filled sky, lost in their own dreams.
When she finished this song, she caught the eye of Behrouz. He nodded her dismissal. She backed silently away and into the shadows, the direction of her tent, where the firelight would not reach her. Now she needed to move.
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