Kabul, spring, 1323
IT HAD BEEN a cold winter, one snowstorm after another, followed by thaws and rain, followed by freezing temperatures that turned everything to ice, followed by more snowstorms. The people of Kabul emerged from their homes like pale, thin ghosts of themselves, blinking dazedly in the sunlight of longer days, not quite trusting in the warmer temperatures. Shutters and doors opened and remained so. Neighbors greeted each other with no memory of past quarrels and vied with one another in the clearing of communal toilets and fountains and streets, and in the cultivation of garden plots barely thawed.
The weeds around the dilapidated fountain in their tiny courtyard sprouted in a welcome show of green, and one day Félicien came home from the market with a basket of fresh strawberries. They devoured them on the instant.
With the sweet juice of the berries lingering on his tongue, Jaufre had the curious sensation of waking up. The room he was in seemed familiar and at the same time unfamiliar to him, small and square, and while obvious effort had been made to keep it clean the dirt bricks that formed the walls were crumbling beneath several layers of whitewash to form tiny piles of debris in odd corners. What had once been a small window had been inexpertly hacked into a larger one, and a roughly planed wooden sill recently plastered into place to form a seat. Light poured through it, illuminating the neatly rolled bedrolls in one corner and the packs heaped in another. There was a pot and a pan and four bowls stacked on a small table. A large brown urn stood next to one a size smaller, the mouths of both covered with plates. An unlit brazier sat nearby, next to a bucket of charcoal.
“Drink this,” Shasha said, putting a cup beneath his nose.
Perforce, he drank. The herbal decoction wasn’t noxious but it wasn’t delicious, either. Hari dipped a new cup from the large urn, which he was relieved to find was water, cool and fresh. Exhausted from the effort of draining it, he
leaned back against the wall, his eyes closed. “Where are we?”
“Kabul,” Shasha said.
“Kabul? But—” He frowned. Surely they had only just been in that great pass, high and flat, between the mountains of the Hindu Kush and the Tian Shan? No, coming down from it. He remembered the steep, crooked trail choked with pine and juniper, slippery with rockfalls, riddled with blind curves. A route perfect for ambush and attack.
“Johanna,” Jaufre said, and shook his head, frustrated. “Where is she?”
A heavy silence fell. Shasha got up to refill his cup from the urn. “Have some more water,” she said, offering it to him.
He shoved it away, spilling the contents on the floor. “Johanna,” he said again.
Dana here — Well, of course the lovers had to be separated, if only so they could triumph over adversity to come together again. And while I’m exposing all the tricks of the trade to the bright sunlight before they squirm back into the dark and secret depths of my imagination once more, this chapter also serves as a way of re-introducing the characters to the reader by way of Jaufre recovering from his illness and regaining his memory of what has gone before. Helpful in a trilogy, the format in which Silk and Song was originally published, as well as in a single omnibus volume 800 pages long.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.