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The Milliner of Klausenburg

A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.

~Goethe

Lotte peered at herself, turning her head from side to side, trying to get the best view of herself in the triple mirror.  She was proud of her creation, copied from a Viennese ladies journal: in gold velvet trimmed with brown lace, the hat sat forward on her forehead, its point emphasising the slant of her eyebrows, echoing her wistful chin.  A veil of bronze organza fell from the back; she pulled this round, relishing its effect against her chestnut hair.  ‘I’ll take it home this evening and try it on again after my bath,’ she thought.  ‘Frau Wolff will never know.  Yes, this hat, and the little buttoned boots.

* * * * *

The woman entered Langhuber’s Café, her head darting sideways, as alert as a bird of prey, an effect enhanced by the mass of nodding feathers on her hat.  She scowled at the portrait of Franz Josef hanging above the hatstand: he returned the scowl.  Magda was irritated.  Her niece had written to her asking for this meeting, so where was the silly woman?

‘You are looking for Frau Wolff, ma’am?’ murmured a waiter.

‘As a matter of fact I am!’

‘If you would please follow me,’ and he wound his way expertly around the scattered, polished tables, the chatter of people and the waxy potted plants to a semi-enclosed booth at the far end of the room.  Impeded by her bustle, Magda’s journey was rather less fluent.  She eased herself into the seat opposite her niece with all the majesty of a four-masted barque edging into a narrow berth.  From here she could look up at the tilted mirror hanging on the wall above their snug – this gave them privacy from the other customers, who could see only the tops of their heads, but she could summon a waiter just by lifting a hand.

‘Lise!  What are you doing in the séparée?’

‘I don’t want anyone to see me, Aunt Magda.’

‘Not like you.  What’s the matter, something wrong with your hat this time?

‘It’s not that – though darling Lotte has promised me another.  It’s Hans.  He has another woman.’

Hans!’

‘He’s not so unattractive as all that, Aunt,’ said Lise.

‘What makes you suspect him, dear?  A letter?  A trace of scent?’

‘Oh no!  It’s because he’s being nice to me.  More than he has been in years.  Solicitous, you know.  Bringing me a cushion. Treating me the way he did when I was expecting Martin.  There was nothing he wouldn’t do for me then!  And there’s another thing but…oh dear, I don’t know that I can find the right words – no decent woman should have to.’

Magda glanced up at the mirror.  The waiters were all busy at smaller tables some distance away.

‘You can tell me,’ said Magda, patting her niece’s gloved hand.

‘In the first two years of our marriage, when Hans was still getting established and was fretful about money, he said we’d have to wait to start a family…’

‘I see…’ said Magda, considering the options.

‘I was mortified…the bedlinen…’

‘Ah!  He provided more work for your laundress, you mean?’

Ilse Wolff’s eyes widened.  ‘Do other husbands do this?’

‘You are not the first wife to tell me this.  It’s next to onanism, of course.  An ungodly and unnatural practice.’

‘Well, the other night he did it again.  It was as if he forgot himself, forgot that we are too old – that am too old for there to be more children…and…and out he came!  It was dark.  He can only have been thinking of someone else!’  Lise whimpered, and fumbled for her handkerchief.

‘My dear, do recollect yourself.  You might be sheltered here, but you are still in a public place.  At least pull down your veil.’ Magda raised a finger to the mirror, and a waiter glided over, as smoothly as though he ran on castors.  Her aunt ordered for them both.

‘Father didn’t want me to marry him,’ said Lise, ‘he said an apothecary was merely a tradesman masquerading as a doctor. But he was the best student of his year.’

‘I remember.  But you did marry him, and successfully it would seem, up to now.  Men are unpredictable, though.  Your uncle Albert was nearly sixty when he lost his head to that dancer.  We women have to put up with much foolishness.  So who is Hans’s woman?’

‘I have no idea.  But I have no doubt that she exists.’

‘Be sensible, Lise, and do not confront him.  Not until you have stronger evidence.’

* * * * *

Discretion was the watchword of the establishment on Szappany Street.  So screams were definitely frowned upon – especially when enmeshed in them was a man’s name.  The doors to the other chambers remained resolutely closed, but the servant recognised the one that crashed open on the third floor, followed by the slap of bare feet on varnished boards.  She tore up the narrow stairs. 

‘Maria!’ shrieked the girl.  ‘Hans is turning blue!  He can’t breathe!’

‘Go back to him!  I’ll send the boy for Dr. Goldschmidt.  Otto!

‘But – the scandal!’

‘There won’t be one.  Goldschmidt’s a client too.’

* * * * *

Mendel Goldschmidt drank down the strong coffee Maria had made for him, and said: ‘He burst a blood vessel in his brain, I believe.  I’ve tried to reassure the poor girl that it wasn’t her fault, but she won’t be comforted.  She’s a sweet thing, even with her face all blotchy like that – obviously adores little Wolff.’

‘Will he live?’

‘Hard to say – and if he does, harder still to know now what lasting damage there  might be.  A terrible shock for her, of course, but if he never does come round, well, there are worse ways to go.  Shouldn’t say any of that of course – he’s still breathing.’

‘What are we to say?  About his being here, I mean.’

‘I shall say he collapsed in the street, on his way to see me about a patient.  You came out on an errand at just the right moment, and had him brought inside.’

‘Where did you take him?’

‘To the Hungarian Sisters.  He’s as good as in gaol there, for they’ll let no-one see him except myself and the specialist I’ve sent for from Kronstadt.  And his wife, of course.’

‘Not her, then.’

‘No chance of that, though she’d be the most devoted of nurses.’

* * * * *

The nun sitting at the head of the bed rustled to her feet on Lise’s entrance, leaving the folded handkerchief with which she had been dabbing Wolff’s face on the marble-topped cabinet, next to a spittoon and a crucifix.

‘I must urge you not to tire your husband, Frau Wolff.  Any undue pressure could be fatal,’ she murmured.

Lise looked down at the slack-jawed face, the matted, grey, untidy moustache; the blacking he used every morning had been sponged out of it.  Drool was gathering at the right side of his mouth; she picked up the handkerchief, but finding it repulsively damp, dropped it.  Hans Wolff stared up at his wife, trying to focus.

‘Poor Hans,’ she said, sitting down.  She touched his right hand where it lay inert on the bedcover; it was cold and unresponsive.  ‘I know, you know.’

Hans gurgled.

‘Don’t fret.  I can hardly fight a duel over you, can I?  I don’t suppose you ever would have for me – not that I have ever given you cause.’

A tear seeped from his left eye.

‘Is that regret, Hans?  For us, or because you won’t ever have her again?  You shan’t, you know, even if you do get better.  I shall find out who she is, and then Aunt Magda will speak to her husband’s cousin – you know, in the Postenkommando – and she will be made to leave town.’

Wolff moaned, an inarticulate, bovine sound.  One side of his mouth twitched; saliva dribbled out the other.

‘Meanwhile, I must struggle on, and find comfort in small things, and in the esteem a respectable woman is held by her neighbours.  In fact, I shall face them today.  I shall go shopping,’ she said, stroking her gloves.  ‘Lotte has sent word that my new hat is ready, bless her.’

The man in the bed groaned, trying to rise, but he jerked uselessly like a puppet on only one string.  The door clicked and the nun billowed in.  Wolff continued to moan and twitch.

‘Frau Wolff, whilst I am sure your presence comforts him, your husband mustn’t be overtaxed.  Depending on what the doctor says, you should be able to see him again tomorrow.’

Lise rose.  ‘Good’bye, Hans.  I do love you, you know.’

* * * * *

Lise peered at her expression in the mirror in the hospital wash-room.  ‘I look too angry,’ she said to herself.  ‘I need to look anxious, devoted – people must look at me and see the strain but tell themselves that I am bearing up wonderfully.’  She experimented, grimacing at her reflection, then when she was satisfied she had found the look she needed, she pulled on her gloves, fitting each finger carefully, and let down her veil.

* * * * *

At the milliner’s, she was disappointed that Lotte was unavailable – indisposed, apparently.  The other girl didn’t have Lotte’s delicate touch, and Lise was sure that she had come close to stabbing her with a hatpin from sheer nerves, but – oh!  The hat was magnificent!  Now she felt ready for her coming task.

* * * * *

The desk intimidated Lise Wolff.  It was an absurdly showy thing, all glossy rosewood and gilt and as incongruous in that plain back-shop as a Steinmüller organ in a country oratory.  Though it could profitably have been sold, when he’d inherited it aged twenty-one Hans Wolff had still nursed dreams of a glittering medical career: receiving illustrious patients in his clinic, dispensing cures seated at this very same piece of furniture.  Instead he was an apothecary, catering mainly to the respectable German-speaking merchant class, and his wife was rummaging for evidence of adultery.

Frau Wolff took her time.  As long as Hans was under the care of the nuns, that woman, whoever she was, couldn’t reach him. ‘So unfortunate that he had to keel over right in front that place…a house of assignation!…’, she thought, ‘but if that servant hadn’t come out at that precise moment and shown such presence of mind he might be dead by now…but how on earth am I to thank such a person?  Fraulein Nicolescu – a Wallachian to boot…  Oh dear, I must make sure everything gets put back just as it was or he’s sure to notice.’  Then she remembered the warning the doctor had given her; even if he lived, Hans might never enter this room again.

For some customers the receipts went back years.  ‘He could have been a good doctor,’ thought Lise, ‘such conscientiousness.’  She schooled herself not to look at names as she untied bundles of correspondence.  Mendel Goldschmidt’s confident, sloping hand occurred regularly.  Her hands trembled when the word ‘mercury’ swam across her vision.  ‘Do keep calm,’ she told herself.  ‘No-one ever got the maladie française from reading about it.’

Three hours later she found the envelope, wrapped in an advertisement in Hungarian for bismuth powders.  The photographer’s name was scrolled across the bottom of each stiff little piece of card; Lise Wolff did not recognise his name but she knew the street name by repute – not good repute.  There were five images in all, of the same naked girl, her hair piled high on her head, yet topped always by an elaborate hat.  She was posed awkwardly, looking at herself in a cheval glass, so that the spectator saw her both front and rear, but frustratingly her face was either obscured by the hat or by her hands.  In one photograph her weight was on her right leg, whilst the left was held awkwardly behind her, on tiptoe.  In another she wore buttoned boots: Lise thought this the most obscene of them all; she noticed too that though the photographs looked new, the edges of this card were not quite as crisp as the others, suggesting that it had been picked up more often.

‘A rather common little body,’ thought Lise, ‘plump legs, too short, the back too long.’

She splayed the photographs across the blotting pad.  In a row they looked like a child’s zoetrope, except that here there was no swinging monkey or flying bird.  ‘I suppose anyone can buy these things,’ thought Lise, ‘some little trollop down on her luck, so half the husbands in Klausenburg get to gawp at her.’ In one of the photographs the girl’s chin and coyly smiling mouth were reflected in the glass, and in another her fingers were latticed over her face, her eyes peeking through and glittering in the mirror – but none of these disparate features amounted to a recognisable person.  ‘At least she had enough sense of shame to hide her face,’ thought Lise.  The anonymity of the photographs gave her the courage to look more closely, though her heart thumped as though she feared discovery, despite the locked door.  The breasts were small, lifted up by the raised elbows, revealing dark smudged armpits, the nipples as dark as Kreuzer coins.  ‘Mine aren’t like that,’ thought Lise.  ‘I wonder – ugh! – do they rouge them?  No letters, then – just some dirty pictures.  I expect he forgot he even had them.’

Lise pushed the photographs together as though stacking a pack of cards.  Then just as she was about to fold them back into the advertisement paper, she noticed something about the hat the girl wore in the uppermost image, and looked more closely. ‘You have to have style to carry off a hat like that,’ she told herself complacently.  ‘It would have looked a lot better on me.’ The hat came forward to a point on the girl’s forehead, and was trimmed with dark lace.  And at the back of her head, a veil shadowed the rounded white shoulders.  Lise dropped the photograph as though it burned her and ran to the little mirror Hans used to refresh the pomade on the tips of his moustaches.

‘Oh my poor hat, my lovely hat!’ she cried, and seizing the veil, began to shred the fine organza.

______________________________________________________________________________

Katherine Mezzacappa is an Irish writer living in Tuscany. She has been published by Erotic Review magazine, Ireland’s Own, Henshaw Press and Severance Publications. Her favoured genre is historical fiction, but she also publishes short romances under the pseudonym Kate Zarrelli (with eXtasy Books). Katherine is represented by Annette Green Authors’ Agency. Her full-length historical novel Merripen is currently out on submission; this novel was longlisted (last 14) for the Historical Novel Society’s New Novel award 2018. As of October 2018 Katherine is a reviewer for Historical Novel Review.

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The Gladiator’s Lover

My dearest Min,

I never wanted it to end like this. I never wanted to say what I felt only through ink on papyrus. That is what always set you apart from my other lovers – the things I could say to you in the afterglow, things I would never say to another in this life. But there are some thoughts that even I am too ashamed to speak out loud. Thoughts I had hoped to take with me to the grave

Grimy shadows clung to the walls, hiding from the daylight above, a haven for the rats. Torches guttered in iron brackets around the arena’s dungeons. Scented sawdust was scattered across the floor, masking other, fouler odours: the stench of enraged animals, the dull aggravating bite of vomit.The metallic taste of spilt blood in the air.

A brief howl echoed through the stone walls, before vanishing back into the depths. Frightening and strident, it set fear even into stout hearts who knew the sound; it was the angry bellow of a lion, prodded and tortured and thirsty for blood. Soon, Aiolos knew, it would have all the blood it desired.

Like the vermin in the shadows, his attendants scurried about. He lay down on the armoury’s thinly padded bench. One worked on his broad back, carefully bandaging an old wound. Another oiled his legs, rubbing and smoothing the taught muscles with his strong fingers. A dull roar shook the walls, and a cabinet bolted to the wall rattled. Aiolos cursed, and his servants fled. He stood, almost brushing his head on the beams of the roof, and opened the cabinet. The bandages pulled tautly across his back, and he felt a small trickle of fresh blood run down to his wide belt.

You have never heard me question my place in the world before. There have been times I nearly lost my nerve, shook so hard I thought I would drop my sword, but I have never before asked the simple question – why do we fight?

 The answer seems so obvious – freedom! Freedom lured me in when I was a young man – freedom from my masters and the total freedom of the battlefield both.

The weapons were finely crafted, of good Iberian steel. They were his tools, with edges honed sharp enough to shave the hair from his forearm. One knife went inside his boot, the other on his waist. Lastly, he slid a plain gladius home into the leather sheath on his left hip. The protruding hilt of the short sword was unadorned, worn smooth from use. Aiolos pulled a short greave onto his left leg. Next came a linen manica on his right arm. He placed the helmet, gaping and fishlike, on his head. Lastly, he hefted a Murmillo’s rectangular shield.

He was ready.

As he left the armoury and climbed the stone stairs that ran through the wooden cages of the slave-pit, the throbbing roar grew louder. It shook sand from the walls and pulsed in time with his heart. His ascent stopped as he reached the arena’s entrance chamber, and the roars grew into a single coherent mass that dulled the senses. Aiolos knew that, once he reached the open air, the noise would pound on his brass helmet like a hammer.

It was not only that I desired to earn my manumission; the infamia that comes with being a gladiator means I can never climb the heights of the nobilitas like your husband, after all, so how much joy could I find in buying up property, statues and other trinkets? What thrill could the struggles of a normal life present me? 

The entrance chamber was narrow and oppressive, and sunlight filtered down through grates overhead. On either side of the corridor, weapons were ceremonially hung beneath inscriptions of names. The former champions of the arena were remembered here, if nowhere else. Their deeds – the number of opponents they had slain, the emperors whose favours they had gained – were not recorded. All that was written was the manner of their deaths.

A fighter waited, sitting well back from the heavy metal gates, wrapping a dirty bandage around a thin cut in his arm. His fight had already been fought. He glanced up as Aiolos’s shadow fell on him.            

‘I heard you were free of this place, Murmillo,’ said the warrior, revealling a deep spear-gash in his side as he twisted to face Aiolos. His festival season was over. Aiolos nodded his head, feeling no give in the straps of his heavy helmet. The warrior spat noisily in the dirty sand.

‘You couldn’t keep away, eh? Well, watch yourself. I’ve seen this one fight. He’s fast, and he’s got a vicious sweep.’ He stopped as a lion’s roar briefly silenced the crowd, and they both looked up at the sunlight tricking down through the grates overhead. The fight was over, and ten thousand voices briefly subsided. An announcer listed the men who would fight next, and they began to chant. 

‘I always liked you, Murmillo,’ he said, dragging himself to his feet as slaves took up the chains that lifted the gates. ‘And I’ve got five sesterces down for you to win. Don’t die out there today.’

While I was still a slave, I burned to be free. But the arena offers me complete freedom, of the most savage and vicious kind – the freedom to fight, to bleed and spill blood. The freedom to kill.

That is why I came back when I won my manumission and became a libertini, again and again. You never understood why I did it – why I continued to risk disfigurement or death once I was free and my patron no longer required it – though you thrilled each time I came back to your bed, sometimes with wounds still bleeding.

But, as my esteem and wealth grew along with my scars, I began to realize that, for us, there can be no freedom from the arena.

His opponent waited for him on the sand.

The gates jolted open. The slow chant gave way to a bloodthirsty roar. The crowd’s appetite for blood had been whetted by the first rounds, by the captives being massacred and the lions running wild. It had been indulged by the clumsy new fighters and the elaborate set pieces recreating the victories of Rome’s history. But their appetite had not been satisfied. Women sang, men bellowed, children heckled, and a barrage of noise bore down upon the two gladiators.

Amongst it all, the Emperor sat, wrapped in regal purple, finely dressed nobiles in the seats all around him. Aiolos could hear nothing within his heavy bronze helmet – the crunch of his feet, the shudder of his breath; all else was swallowed up by the crowd.

Perhaps you believed you truly meant it when you asked me to give up this life, let this contest be my last. But we both know that the only reason you took me to your bed in the first place was because I fight, and no doubt you will find another victor to satisfy you after me. The gods know the nobile ladies do not seek us out for the handsomeness of our scarred faces and oft-broken noses. Any of the thousands of commoners in the crowd would suit you better. 

Aiolos advanced, swapping shield back and forth as he stretched his arms out. The sand crunched beneath his sandals. It was raked smooth throughout the arena, with one exception – by one of the walls, a blood-mad lion lay dying, a hamstring cut, a blood-splattered spear buried in its ribs. It purred for a moment with the deep, terror-inspiring voice of the big cats, before the blood in its lungs choked it back into silence. The beast was doomed, but the groundskeepers knew to stay well away.

His opponent waited for him, patient, unmoved by the lion’s call. He was short, with the lithe and fluid carriage of a dancer. He had the weapons of the Thracian: the vicious sickle-sword, the small shield, the side-plume and the heavy mail belt. The trappings were those of a defeated Roman enemy; this gladiator, however, carried them with pride, for he had cut down more than his share of Murmillos and Hoplomachi. Aiolos wondered if they would be the last thing he ever saw, before he dispelled the grim thought from his head and focused on his breath.

He glanced up at his opponent’s master; the man sat close by the Emperor, beaming at the attention, and betrayed no nervousness in the way he moved.

Aiolos moved to the centre of the arena, drew his sword, and waited. Blood pounded in his ears. He fixed his legs to the ground like pedestals and forced out a deep breath. It whistled through the mouthpiece of his fish-shaped helmet.

The emperor signalled. The blaring horns cut through the din.

The fight began, and the crowd roared.

They could have been just like me, those sitting behind the walls. Perhaps some of them hope that, one day, it is they who will know the glory of the arena. But they do not realize that it is they that have the glory; the teeming masses that surround us are the only reason that we fight. It is for them that we endeavour and struggle. It is for their sport that we die.

Their voices rose exultantly as the two fighters moved together. The two fighters circled one another, and with each subtle lunge or hint of a thrust they gasped and held their breaths for a moment. A vicious thrill whispered across ten thousand faces with the piercing noise of the first blow, metal on metal.

Aiolos stepped quickly back as the Thracian advanced. He swung his unadorned sword, and his opponent swayed aside, but before Aiolos could recover the smaller man was stepping in, flicking the curved sword at him like it was a whip. The Murmillo raised his heavy shield, and the shock of the blow radiated through the wound in his shoulder.

He roared to match the crowd as he smashed his opponent’s blade aside and lunged forward, sword low, the disembowelling thrust of the gladius which the legionaries had used to conquer the enemies of Rome.

The blow had been his trademark move, fast and difficult to anticipate, but his opponent glanced it aside with his tiny shield, Aiolos’s blade slashing at the air a finger’s width from the Thracian’s exposed ribs. Before he could think Aiolos was behind his shield, charging, and the Thracian stepped aside from the felling blow. They broke off and began to circle once more.

The silence of the skirmish vanished, and the crowd’s roar beat down upon the warriors in full force. Aiolos kept back, lashing out probing jabs with his sword. His blood began to flow, the wound on his shoulder matched by vicious nicks from the sickle sword that began to dot his legs and arms. But this fight was not stopping for first blood. Aiolos was a head taller than the Thracian, and his shoulders were far broader, but the crowd could tell that the smaller man was quicker and had the advantage. Aiolos was past his prime.

And amongst them sit those in whose honour our lives are thrown away – the nobiles. Men like your esteemed husband, whose wealth allows them patronage over the games. The raw emotion of the crowd they are united, but it is they who moved stone and metal to build the arena, and it is they who buy and sell men as though they were naught but beasts of burden, to pit them against one another, until eventually, if they live, they may be set free.

And so long as the nobiles preside over this blood-soaked illusion of freedom and choice, the crowd loves them.

Aiolos cut wildly, and the Thracian parried the blade over his shoulder, knocking the gladius from his hand. Aiolos backed away, hiding behind his shield as he reached for the knife on his belt, but that too was knocked from his hand with the next parry. He grew still, forcing himself to breathe as he saw death approaching on the shining edge of the sickle sword. The crowd cheered in delight as his opponent moved in for the winning blow.

The lion roared as it pounced on the Thracian. The dying beast had dragged itself up, and the warriors had been too immersed in their struggle to notice it approaching or the enthusiastic cries of the crowd. The Thracian looked up and dove aside at the last second, losing his sword in his mad scramble to get away from the enraged beast. The lion’s claws raked at the back of his legs, rending muscle and tendon into shreds of meat.

The Thracian screamed. He pulled himself free with his arms, his lifeless legs dragging behind him in the sand. He threw a terrified glance over his shoulder, but the lion was finished; it collapsed to the ground, air rushing from its lungs. It had lived long enough to take one final revenge on its tormentors.

Aiolos put one foot on the lion’s corpse, pulling the spear free from its ribs. His shoulder burned with the effort. He walked over to his opponent, lying waiting on the sand. Their gazes met as Aiolos approached. The Thracian closed his eyes, face twisted in agony.

Aiolos lay the spearpoint over his throat and looked up at the Thracian’s patron. The man’s head was in his hands.

The crowd roared for blood.

The Emperor gestured.

Aiolos hesitated only a moment.

Yet even though I have seen through the illusion, I still play my part in it. And even though I am rich enough to live out my days in comfort, still I come back to the arena. For the false freedom of a normal life is no better than the freedom of the blade, and playing along with the illusion is no worse than never seeing through it at all. If that means the end for us, then so be it.

Your husband is a good man, for all the blood that is spilled in his name. May you be happy with him to the end of your days, Min.

______________________________________________________________________________

Patrick Harrison is a writer of historical fiction from the South Coast of New South Wales. He studied Creative Writing at the University of Wollongong, graduating with distinction in 2011, and his fiction has been published in the Tertangala student magazine. He has also worked as a freelance copywriter, journalist, youth activist and retail worker. 

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Cobalt Blue

Wine dark waves lapped at the coast of the Sea of Marmara outside the house of Beyza the potter. The weathered beams of the house held great open windows and milk-vetch and goat’s thorn grew in tangles beneath them.

Beyza sat at her potter’s wheel behind the open windows, dark hair braided beneath a blue scarf and sleeves rolled past her elbows. Her foot moved back and forth to spin the kick wheel so that the clay spun beneath her hands. Placing the lip of the dish between the fingers of both hands she pulled slowly, steadily upward, thinning and raising the wall of the vessel.

When the height was just right Beyza began to expand the mouth. Bracing a wooden rib against the exterior she smoothed the sides, clearing away the excess water. Her foot’s continuous motion ceased and the pot spun into stillness, the surface shining dully in the light from the windows.

Beyza stopped to ponder the shape. The foot of the bowl was small, the width of her hand in diameter, narrowing as it rose. From there, the bowl expanded rapidly, with a broad basin and tall, slightly tapered walls. It was a shape she had been working with for weeks now, struggling to create better and better imitations of the work merchants in the city were importing from the Far East.

She bent down to examine the exterior curve, brushing a strand of dark hair back from her face and leaving a streak of clay across her forehead.

She was startled from her work by the sound of approaching footsteps. Looking up she saw her friend, Negris, approaching from the direction of the road. She was tall and moved like a tulip in the sea-wind, her dark red robe like the petals of a flower.

“Beyza,” said Nergis, “come away from your potter’s wheel and go to the market with me.”

“I should be working, not shopping,” Beyza said, although she stood from her wheel and cleaned her hands.

“You work too much,” Nergis said, laughing, tossing her hair over her shoulder, dark and rippling like a skein of patterned silk.

Beyza straightened her scarf and tidied away her tools, leaving the bowl sitting on her wheel, fragile in its wet state. A brush of a hand or an accidental nudge would render it useless. The carefully shaped clay would be pounded back into a lump and she would have to start all over.

She was careful not to disturb the bowl.

When her workspace was clean enough, Beyza went to the chest by the window. It had been a gift from her husband, Hayri, when they married. She remembered watching him construct it; it was made of dark wood with a mosaic in small ceramic tiles on the lid. She paused for a moment to run her fingers over them – the wood had been worn smooth over the past seven years from the touch of her hands, and the blue swirl of the sea over the tiles was so familiar to her she could see it even when she closed her eyes.

More familiar than her husband’s face, these days, for he had been buried in the hills behind the house two summers past.

From the chest she pulled a worn silk scarf. She laid it gently over the bowl so it would not dry too much while she was gone.

“Now we can go,” she said to Nergis.

The two woman began the walk into the city. They walked past fields of wheat and barley that shone gold and green in the midday sun, flowers bobbing alongside the heavily rutted dirt road. Nergis chattered away about her eldest son, but Beyza was only half listening. She watched a farmer moving between the rows of his field, examining the leaves of his plants. She pictured the golden spikes of wheat splashed across the rim of a platter against a background of smooth white porcelain.

What would it feel like to work with such fine clay? she wondered. The clay she dug from the local hills turned a toasty golden color when she fired it, like the seed pods of goat’s thorn.

The city of Iznik had expanded rapidly in the past hundred years under the influence of a steady influx of trade from the east, and it had overtaken many of the farms that had once surrounded the city. Creamy stone buildings with brightly painted faces lined the crowded, winding streets. The walk was not a long one – Beyza’s eleven year old son made it every morning to attend a school in the city.

The two women went to the Sahil Market, where most of the foreign vendors sold their wares. It was abuzz with languages Beyza did not recognize, shouting and calling back and forth to one another. Beyza followed Nergis through the market as she chattered at vendors, poring over beaten gold jewelry and bolts of cloth woven so fine it was see-through. Date rolls with cinnamon and roasted figs filled the air with a sharp, sweet scent so enticing that Nergis stopped and purchased one. Sticky bun wrapped in a cloth, they continued on, passing stalls of glass beads and strings of pearls, amber and amethysts glittering over folds of linen.

While there were many imports – tea and spices, silk and other exotic fabrics – Beyza had eyes only for the pottery. Bone white porcelain bowls with lips of cobalt blue, darker than the Marmara Sea. Fine lines of indigo swirled across platters, flowers blossomed and tigers crept around the foot rims of serving dishes. Cups so fine they were almost transparent perched on saucers that sparkled like gemstones imported from the south.

“What is it that makes their work so much more beautiful than ours?” she murmured, but she knew the answer. Iznik potters might have the skills to rival those in the Far East, but they didn’t have the raw materials.

“You seem to have an eye for craftsmanship,” one vendor said. He was a broad shouldered man with a thick, grey peppered beard and skin that had been weathered to leather by years in the sun and wind. “You’ve only picked up the finest pieces I have.”

“What about those?” she asked, gesturing to a set of dishes she had passed over earlier. They were decorated with gold, but the bottoms were sloppily trimmed and the rim uneven.

He shook his head. “Expensive, but not so well made as some of these plainer dishes,” he said, pointing out the blue patterned bowl in front of her. “You know true quality.”

She flushed. “I’m a potter, it’s my work to know such things.”

“Ah, I see. Your work must be fine indeed.”

She fingered the blue patterned bowl. The clay at the base felt like silk it was so smooth. “Not as fine as this, I assure you. Though it might be, if I had the proper materials.” Her work was well known in the city, and sold for high prices in shops in the wealthier parts of the city, but she coveted the imported wares, longed to create pieces with the same delicate vibrancy.

The vendor considered her for a long moment. “Come,” he said at last, waving her around the side of the stall. “I have something you will appreciate.”

Beyza glanced around for Nergis, but her friend had moved on to the next stall and was examining a thick woven rug.

She followed the man to the back of his stall. There were several large wooden crates in various states of unpacking, straw strewn about and heaped in the bottoms of crates. The vendor bent over and rummaged in one of the crates. From within he drew a cup, wide with no handle, to be cupped between the hands.

“It’s a tea bowl, from Jiangxe. The newest I’ve got.”

Dragons chased each other around the cup, minute scales like sapphires, the wings so delicately drawn they seemed to flutter as she stared.

“It’s an experimental technique,” the man said, his voice low. “Rumors say those Eastern barbarians grind up the bones of children and mix it in with the clay before forming it.”

His words broke her trance and she tore her eyes from the dragon to meet the vendor’s eyes. His brown gaze was unruffled.

Would it have to be the bones of a child? she wondered. If it could create such beautiful work – surely the world would take notice if she could create something to rival this elegant cup.

She pushed the thought from her mind and withdrew her fingers, which had been extended in longing to touch the smooth surface.

“How crude,” she said, although the product was anything but.

“Still,” the vendor said, “look at the grins on those dragons.”

Beyza peered close again. The dragons were indeed grinning, their sharp teeth bared. In the dim light of the stall, filtered through the red awning overhead, the fangs seemed to glint with blood.

She left the vendor and found Nergis, who hadn’t gone far. Her friend held out her hand, which now glittered with a bracelet of citrines set in gold.

“It’s beautiful,” Beyza said, although she suspected the gemstones were paste. The two women left the market shortly after, and walked several streets to her son, Deniz’s school. He was sitting in the courtyard outside, poring over a leaflet, his dark hair shining as it hung over his face.

He looked up as they approached, and his face lit up, bright smile splitting his face. “Valide!” he cried, jumping up. He threw his arms around Beyza’s waist, hugging her tightly.

He looked up at her, his dark, grey eyes like slate, a gift from his father. The smile was his too, kind and gentle and brilliant.

She looked at Nergis. “Time for us to go home, I think. I have work to do.”

The morning after she and Nergis went to the market, Beyza went into the hills. Her little house stood, nestled between two hills and just a few minutes’ walk from the river. She walked up river, away from the sea, shoes squishing in the muddy banks where the grass had washed away in the spring rains. She carried her battered leather pack on her back, and Deniz dodged eagerly in her footsteps, carrying a spade. He liked to help her when she went to gather clay.

There were three elements to the clay she mixed. The thick, sticky clay she dug from the hills – too soft to do anything with on its own – the feldspar she bought in the city market, and the crushed up fragments of her broken pots.

The sun was hot on her back, warming her dark hair as they rounded the last bend in the river to the area she had been digging for the last few weeks. Here the river was wide and shallow, weeds growing in twists along the edges. Most of the potters from Iznik got their clay from the seabed along the coast where the river and rains deposited it. Beyza, however, preferred to dig out the clay at its source.

She tossed down her pack and set to work, cutting into the dense soil with her spade. She worked up a sweat while Deniz skipped rocks across the river. She stood at last and wiped the back of her hand across her forehead.

Together the two of them packed the clay into her leather satchel. Her back was strong from years of hauling clay and throwing large pots on the wheel, but even so she had to stop and rest twice before they reached home.

That night, after Deniz was asleep, Beyza went to her potter’s wheel. The bowl she had thrown the day before sat there, now trimmed and bone dry, dusty to touch. She lifted it gently between her hands and held it up in the moonlight streaming through the open windows. It was well crafted, but lacked the ethereal beauty she craved. Even the unfired clay seemed coarse and unrefined to her, before it had darkened in kiln fire.

It wouldn’t have to be the bones of a child.

The thought came to her, unbidden, something she had pushed to the back of her mind. She thought of her husband, buried two summers back over the rise behind the house.

She left Deniz asleep in bed and took up her spade. Outside the moon was nearly full, the skies clear and shot with stars like silver thread. She made her way through the tangles of milk-vetch, goat’s thorn snarling the bottom of her robe with its tiny burrs.

The place where she had buried her husband was marked with a carved stele, bleached from the bright sun. The ground that had once been a patch of bare, recently churned earth, was now overgrown. She sunk her spade into the dirt, slicing through thick green leaves.

She dug for what felt like hours, until the moon was overhead and her body ached. She thought of the look on Nergis’s face if she found out what Beyza was doing, and kept on. Nergis didn’t know what her work meant to her, didn’t understand the burning desire to create something so beautiful that God himself would take notice.

Thrusting the spade deep into the ground once more something grey broke the surface.

She knelt and rummaged in the dirt with her hands, feeling along the length of the bone, still stretched with fragments of the burial wrappings. The skin and muscle were gone, nothing remaining of his original flesh but a few brittle tendons and ligaments.

She paused, suddenly feeling the dirt that had caught under her fingernails and left a dusty film over her skin. It felt invasive, plucking his bones from the ground where she had once said prayers over his body.

But his body was of no use to him now, and she’d already come this far. She looked toward the house, half expecting Deniz to be standing there to catch her rooting in his father’s grave. He wasn’t. He was still sound asleep in the house.

She left the grave dismantled and carried the bones back to the yard outside her house. Kindling a fire in her kiln she placed the bones where she would normally place her bone dry pots and jars. The kiln was nearly six feet long and six feet wide, with a firebox in the front for her to tend and steps in the back for the pottery.

By the time the sun rose she had a blazing fire. The wind fluttered against the mouth of the kiln and the sound of the roaring flame inside the kiln seemed to mirror the beating of her heart.

Deniz came to join her much later, when the sun was already nearing its peak.

“Why did you let me sleep so late?” he asked. She shrugged, and he helped her tend to the fire for several hours. Sparks scattered every time they opened the firebox to feed in more wood the skin on her face and hands soon felt brittle and crisp. The heat that emanated from the small brick structure felt hotter than the sun.

She did not let it go as long as she would if she were actually firing her pots – just until the bones splintered. After that she let the fire die, although she knew it would be the next morning before it would be cool enough to retrieve them.

“Why are you stopping so early?” Deniz asked. He had helped her with her kiln many times and it usually took two days to run.

“The pots inside have shattered,” she said. He peered inside, looking for the cracked and broken pieces of ceramic.

After she left off tending the fire, she went inside the house and slept.

She might have slept all night, but she woke to her son shaking her. “Something’s been digging in father’s grave!” he cried, trying to drag her from her bed.

“It was probably a bad spirit,” she said, but she followed him outside to look at the mess she had made the night before. The sun was setting, cradled by the Marmara Sea and flaming red as it died. In the light the damage looked far worse – Hayri’s grave stele was off kilter, the dirt dark and rich around the base, obviously overturned.

“Who would do this?” her son asked. She hugged him close and said nothing.

The next day, when Deniz left for school, she went to the kiln and retrieved the fragments of bone. She ground them into as fine a powder as she could manage. It was dull grey, different from the crushed ceramic she usually mixed with her clay. She tossed it with the feldspar and went to the clay that she and Deniz had hauled back from up river. With hands strong from years of kneading dense clay, she mixed the new material into the clay body, trying to make sure it was evenly distributed. When this was done she split off a piece and molded it into a sphere.

She went to her wheel and sat, staring at it for several minutes. This could be the beginning of something beautiful. Beautiful and terrible.

Throwing down the piece of new clay, she kicked at the base of the wheel to start the top spinning. Her foot fell into a familiar rhythm, and the light streaming through the windows soaked into the dark fabric of her robe, into her bones. Warmth and light, like a kiln. Wetting her hands she placed them firmly on the clay and it spun beneath her hands, like every other time.

Just like every other time, except with the possibility of more beautiful results.

The work seemed to shape itself beneath her hands, as though guided by something within.

______________________________________________________________________________
Katy is a garden enthusiast from Michigan, graduated from Central Michigan University with a Bachelor’s in painting and ceramics. Her poetry has previously been published through Temenos, Rising Phoenix Review and The Write Launch

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New Poetry Chapbook from J. Todd Hawkins

AVAILABLE NOW

What Happens When We Leave, a chapbook of poems by J. Todd Hawkins, has been released by Blackbead Books with the support of the Fort Worth Poetry Society and the Poetry Society of Texas. The book is the winner of the 2018 William D. Barney Memorial Chapbook Contest judged by Diane Glancy. This collection features a variety of forms such as ghazal, haibun, cento, sonnet, and free verse. It draws from pop culture and high culture, current headlines and ancient stories. Select pieces have previously appeared in Rattle: Poets Respond, Copperfield Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Concho River Review, and other publications. Signed copies are available from the author for $7.50, including postage (PayPal, Venmo, checks accepted). E-mail jtoddhawkins@gmail.com for details. The book is also available on Amazon.

Praise for What Happens When We Leave

Hawkins shows us how leaving and its intrinsic
epiphanies are essential parts of travel, both physical
and metaphysical. An insightful tour guide, Hawkins
writes poems full of details that “insist we remember,”
even as he gracefully escorts us to our next destination.
— Anne McCrady, author of Letting Myself In

Few experiences in contemporary poetry match the thrill
of encountering J. Todd Hawkins’s precise and haunting
verse. What Happens When We Leave is a dark tour of
poetic forms that takes us from Tokyo to Texas, from
extinction to eternal love, from classic painters to
country crooners. This is an inspiring collection from a
poet of powerful craft, deep sentiment and startling
range.
— Elle Aviv Newton, coeditor and cofounder of
Poets Reading the News

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Mont Gisard

By David Hourani

Southern Palestine, 1177

Sweat and dust caked the young man’s hair and cropped beard as he rode the road north from Ascalon.

Youssef ibn Bakhus was the son of the Muqaddam of Ehden, the Maronite lord of the town. His father was a vassal of the Count of Tripoli, and as such, was a rear-vassal to the king of Jerusalem.

When the crusaders came to the Levant, they were surprised to find thriving Christian settlements in the mountains of Lebanon. The Maronites saw the benefit in having much needed allies in their fellow Christians from Europe, and homage was a small price to pay for security. The Crusaders recognized the asset having indigenous guides and translators would be.

Youssef and his men were trained with the bow, lance, and sword from a young age. Unlike the Franks, they fought in light armor, composed of quilted silk and hardened leather, with interlinked mail across the chest and torso. The horses they rode were slightly smaller, but were faster and had more stamina than the large European destriers their counterparts rode.

He had known the king since they were children. When offered the chance to join the king’s household two years prior, he had taken it, bringing with him thirty men from Ehden and the surrounding villages, but leaving his younger brother behind. The transition had been difficult initially. He had been looked upon with some suspicion by several of the nobles at court upon his arrival; however, over time he had earned their grudging respect, and the friendship of several.

As he rode, his mind wandered to what had led to this point.

Baldwin, the King of Jerusalem, suffered from leprosy and, as such, could not produce any heirs and the most likely candidate to inherit the kingdom would be a child of his sister Sybilla, who was recently widowed and pregnant.

Philip of Alsace, the Count of Flanders, and one of the most powerful nobles in Europe had come to the Levant on Crusade. On his arrival, he had demanded that Sybilla marry one of his vassals. Baldwin had not outright refused this as he could not afford to anger such a powerful lord. Instead, he simply did not answer and sought to form an alliance with the Greek Empire in Constantinople with the goal of striking at Egypt, hoping to threaten the base of the power and wealth of Salah al-Din, the Sultan of Syria and Egypt. When Salah al-Din learned of this, he began strengthening the defenses of Egypt and calling his levies.

Philip of Alsace had other plans. He did not want to share the wealth or crown of Egypt with the Greeks. He decided instead to move to attack northern Syria with several knights of the kingdom and the lords of Tripoli and Antioch.

With the Kingdom of Jerusalem weakened with many of its warriors in the north, Salah al-Din decided to invade from Egypt with the thirty thousand man army he had gathered for its defense. Baldwin had less than six thousand men with which to defend his kingdom.

The Frankish army had moved south to meet the Muslim threat, but as its numbers became known, they realized that a pitched battle would be futile and retreated inside the defenses of Ascalon, remaining there as Salah al-Din had moved north raiding Ramla and the surrounding villages.

Youssef now rode with three men, and they had seen no sign of Salah al-Din’s forces other than the occasional charred field or house. One of his men pointed in the distance at two riders approaching swiftly. He recognized two of his men he had sent forward with strict instructions to find Salah al-Din’s rear screen line and then return.

“Speak, Samir.”

“Lord, we came within sight of the rear-guard and baggage train.

“Were you seen,” Youssef questioned quickly.

“No, lord. There is no screen line.”

Quickly realizing the importance of this information he turned his steed back toward Ascalon. En route, he came upon more of his scouts with similar information, as well as others with information that the road south to Gaza  was clear of the Muslim army as well.

 * * * * *

When he arrived in the great hall in the Citadel of Ascalon, he found King Baldwin in quiet discussion with Joscelin of Edessa, his uncle, and Reynald de Chatillon, the lord of Transjordan and the newly appointed regent of the realm.

The lord of Transjordan looked more like a common soldier than one of the most powerful vassals of the kingdom, more comfortable in a camp than a great hall. A tall man with auburn colored hair and beard, and skin turned dark tan by years in the sun of Outremer, he had a scar ran down the under his right eye, giving him an almost sinister appearance. The younger son of a Burgundian nobleman, he had come to the Holy Land twenty years prior seeking his fortune during the Second Crusade. He found it,  becoming Prince of Antioch through marriage to the then heir, Constance of Antioch. He ruled the Principality for the next eight years and developed a reputation as a man of prowess, ruthlessness and brutality on the battlefield. Captured by Nur ad-Din in 1161, he was held in captivity for fifteen years during which his wife had died. His stepson, Bohemond had become Prince of Antioch during his imprisonment, and so upon his release, he was again landless. He traveled south to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and offered his services to the young king. King Baldwin consented to and arranged to his marriage of one of the great heiresses of the kingdom, Stephany of Milly, who was heir of the Transjordan. Reynald had returned the king’s favor with undivided loyalty.

Youssef made his obeisance before the king, but the king quickly motioned him to his feet, recognizing the urgency in his expression and step.

“Speak, Lord Youssef.”

“Salah al-Din has split his forces. His vanguard has burned Ramla and is marching on Lydda, while a portion of his army has been sent to burn the hill villages,” he paused for breath, before continuing. “He has left no screen of scouts between Ascalon and the army. The road to Gaza remains clear as well.”

All three men were quick to understand the implications of the report. The other lords in the hall turned their attention as Baldwin quickly stood to his feet, waving aside the assistance from his servants.

“Send a messenger to Gaza, instruct the Grand Master to meet us on the coastal road south of Ibelin. Call the men to arms, call out the city levies as well,” the king ordered.

“Sire, even with only part of his army, Salah al-Din will still have more than twice our numbers,” Joscelin of Edessa reminded him, “victory is in no ways assured.”

Although always one for action, the lord of Transjordan looked unsure as well, as did several of the other lords; however, the king had no doubts.

The king’s face, scarred from his leprosy, was resolute as he stared coldly at his uncle.

“I would rather face try the dubious chance of battle with the enemy than suffer my people be exposed to rape, fire and massacre, while I remain safe behind tall walls. The kingdom is my charge and I will safeguard it.”

Before the king’s uncle could argue further, Reynald de Chatillon shouted, “To arms!”

With that, the discussion was ended and the hall sprang to life. Youssef quickly gathered the rest of his men who had not been scouting with him. He saw the stepsons of the count of Tripoli, Hugh de St Omer and his brother William gathering their household knights. The summoners were riding through the streets calling the feudal levies that had gathered to arms.

Youssef was surprised by how quickly Reynald had been able to organize their forces. They numbered around five thousand men in total, with six hundred mounted knights. They left late in the afternoon and headed north along the coastal road toward Ibelin and Jaffa.

Youssef had to bridle his impatience, the speed of their march limited by their footsoldiers. Despite having their left flank covered by the sea, they were still incredibly vulnerable on the march.

It was not long before an alarmed scout road up reporting mounted men approaching the rear of the column. Most likely it was the Templars from Gaza, but Reynald dispatched Hugh de St. Omer and Balian d’Ibelin with their household knights to the rear just to be safe. Because time was of the essence, the march would not be halted.

It was not long before a messenger arrived at the head of the column reporting the arrival of the Templars, shortly followed by Odo, Hugh and Balian at the head of their knights.

The Grand Master had brought eighty knights. He joined Baldwin and Reynald at the head of the column. As they neared Azotus, a rider approached where Youssef and Hugh de St Omer were riding with their men in the column. As the rider drew closer, Youssef was surprised to see it was the lord of Transjordan.

“Lord Youssef, I want you to take your men and scout ahead east of Ibelin.”

“Yes, my lord,” he responded, spurring his Arab courser toward where his men rode in the column, he called them from the formation.

They quickly rode out along the coast before turning inland to pass east of Ibelin. They were all armed in a similar fashion to Youssef. A hardened leather vest interweaved with quilted silk and steel plates guarded their torsos. They all had quivers strapped across their backs. When they had rode out from the column, they had all strung their bows which were now secured to their saddles. They were all armed with either a sword or axe as well.

After an hour they could see Ibelin to the northwest. All around them they could see the devastation that Salah al-Din’s army had wreaked. The burned fields in the countryside surrounding Ibelin, with smoke rising in the distance from the village of Ramla itself. Night was beginning to fall and the distant campfires could be seen to the east.

They had yet to come across any significant Saracen force. It seemed as if the majority of Salah al-Din’s cavalry was north, raiding near Lydda and Arsuf.

* * * * *

When they reached the head of the Frankish column it was already dark. Youssef reported to Baldwin and Reynald what he had seen. He had left scouts out in the field and continued to get frequent reports as their host continued on through the night, driven by the will of their ailing king. Baldwin had acquiesced to riding in a litter, but only after much insistence by his seneschal and regent.

Their night was free of attack and by morning, their scouts reported they were within five miles of Salah al-Din’s camp. They had been heading inland for several hours, using the low lying hills to screen their movements as much as possible. The Bishop of Bethlehem had accompanied them with the True Cross. His face dripping with sweat even though the autumn air was cool and the sun was far less unforgiving.

One of Youssef’s men rode in out of breath about midmorning.

“Lord Youssef! Salah al-Din’s baggage train has become mired  in the mud. His rear-guard has not been able to keep contact with the main column!”

Without bothering to respond, Youssef spurred his mount to the head of the cavalry column motioning his man to follow him. Once to the king and Reynald, he motioned for his man to repeat his report. The effect was what Youssef had anticipated.

“Heavy cavalry to the center, have the infantry in the vanguard form the left wing, my lord seneschal, the command is yours,” the lord of Transjordan ordered, “my lords Baudouin and Balian,” he said, addressing the brothers Ibelin, “The command of the right wing is yours. Once the center charges, attempt to cut off their retreat south.”

The changes took place as they still moved forward. In the center a force of almost a thousand cavalry was the main thrust of the attack. The heavy Frankish knights in their full body mail, carrying heavy lances, and on their large steeds. Youssef and his men rode with the king.

They could see dust and smoke rising in the distance as they neared Ibelin and Tell Jazaar, or Montgisard, as the Franks called it. After rounding a turn, the Muslim baggage train came into view, mired in the mud of a wadi. The Frankish forces urged their horses to a high speed, leaving their foot soldiers behind. Salah al-Din’s rear guard realized too late their peril as they scrambled to form battle lines.

“Deus le volt!”

The battle cry of the kingdom rang out down the line of mailed warriors. The heavy cavalry charge crashed over the Muslim rear guard like waves against sand, killing hundreds in an instant. Horses on both sides broke their necks in the crash. Knights thrown from their mounts were quickly trampled; however, the majority of the Frankish cavalry continued on, as the Frankish infantry followed into the broken lines, killing what remained of the shocked Muslim troops.

Following the few fleeing survivors of the rear guard, they soon came into sight of part of Salah al-Din’s main body. Like the rear guard, however, the alarm was too late. As the Franks moved their horses to a hard gallop, Youssef glanced towards their center at the king who had insisted on riding into battle. Flanked by Reynald de Chatillon and his household knights, his illness seemed a thing of the past.

Looking back up, Youssef saw the yellow and green standard of Salah al Din, marking the Sultan’s presence in the field. The Frankish knights yelled their battle cry once more and pushed deep into the hastily assembled Muslim lines.

Youssef impaled a rider with his lance and unsheathed his sword. He pushed his horse towards another opponent, making quick work of him. He was in the vanguard, with the King, Reynald de Chatillon, Hugh de St Omer, and several other knights. Before he realized it, they had pushed to the center of the Muslim host, facing the elite Mamluk bodyguard of Salah al-Din.

The Mamluks were Eastern European, Slavic, and Turkish, soldiers, who had been taken from their families as young boys and sold as slaves into Muslim houses. Raised from a very young age in the art of war, they were the backbone of the Muslim army.

The fighting had slowed as the fleeing Muslims beginning to rally; however, the Franks knew that if the Sultan was to fall, the battle would be won. With this thought they threw themselves at Salah al-Din’s Mamluks.

Youssef found himself fighting a giant of a man, armed with a long curved sword called a shamshir and a shield. He pushed his mount towards the man and at the last moment threw himself at the giant. Both ended up on the ground, but only a moment before they were back on their feet. Youssef gave the man no time to regain his bearings and immediately charged, parrying a strike with his sword, before bringing his fist into contact with the man’s throat. The shock was enough for Youssef to drive home the killing strike.

The king’s men pushed forward, giving no quarter. Youssef parried a spear thrust, closing with the wielder and killing him a fluid motion. The ground became slippery with blood as the killing continued, but Youssef could feel the wave of battle pushing them forward.

Thirty paces away, Youssef saw one of Hugh de St Omer’s household knights lunge at the Sultan, whose horse reared, taking the blow in the neck. As the knight was killed instantly by one of the Mamluks, Salah al-Din deftly rolled off the falling horse.

Another adversary occupied Youssef for another moment, before he was quickly killed by the now surging Frankish forces.

Cheering caught his attention, and he looked in time to see Salah al-Din fleeing on camelback, only a handful of his bodyguards behind him. His colors, left behind, lay in the dirt surrounded by the Sultan’s dead Mamluks.

Reynald was urging on them on, and Youssef knew he was right. A commander as skilled as Salah al-Din could still rally his troops if given time. Remounted, they pushed on, but found no formed battle lines, only fleeing soldiers, leaving behind weapons, armor, and other spoils of war. Those that surrendered were taken prisoner, others were quickly dispatched. As they came to a halt, Reynald sent out lieutenants to continue the rout of the Muslim army, pushing them back towards Egypt.

Their losses had been heavy.They would find later they had suffered almost two thousand casualties, with over a thousand dead. The eight hundred wounded Franks were evacuated to the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem.

Despite this, their mood was euphoric, for their losses were nothing compared to the decimation they had dealt to Salah al-Din. The rout continued for the next ten days, as more of the Muslim soldiers were taken prisoner and killed. Salah al-Din evaded capture, eventually making it back to Egypt; however, only ten percent of his army had survived.

* * * * *

A great feast was held in Jerusalem, celebrating the victory and the king that had lead them. Youssef watched the revelries with pride in his king, whose determination and courage had done so much to bring them the victory; however, he could not help but feel a melancholy at the same time. It would only be a matter of time before the combination of the king’s failing health and the might of Salah al-Din’s empire would place them in jeopardy once again. He looked out on the laughing, smiling faces, wondering which would be missing in a year. He forced himself out of his mood. Worries for another time. Today, they would drink.

______________________________________________________________

Dr. David Hourani is a medical doctor and student of Middle Eastern and Crusader history.

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No Better Plenitude: 1685

By James McAdams

“I have wanted to kill myself a thousand times, but am still in love with life.” 

Voltaire, Candide

Francois M. said his garden was better—“But your garden is all well and good,” he added, striding around the garden crimping leaves and smelling with evident lack of impression the flowers, shrubs, and larger vines that comprised Herrenhausen. His inflection was slow and dispassionate, indicating a sort of distracted scorn.  “Although your garden is…je nais sais quoi…far from perfect.”

“It’s not my garden,” said the Duke of Hanover.  “It was built for my brother by our famous librarian and courtier, Leibniz. I assume you know of him.”

“I too have created a garden, an opus of negation, of hybrid plants and black vines, of flesh-eating flowers.  I could describe to you the most hideous and bizarre things.”  He coiled his hands in the air, as if searching for the proper phrasing.

The Duke observed him looking in perplexity at the sandbox.  Everything about Francois M. promoted a protest against the world and a corresponding cultivation of deformity, illness, and negation. He was tall and thin, with a long red face and carbuncular, flaky skin.  His hair was shorn in uneven patches like a peasant and uncovered by the Baroque wigs and perukes affected by polite society.  One of his eyes was completely covered by its upper lid, the resulting slit looking vaguely reptilian.  

Francois M. returned to the table where the Duke sat with two officers of the court standing behind him.  He eased himself onto a chair across from the Duke, issuing a bitter groan.  He rapped on the stone pathway with his cane and said, “I must admit, my knowledge of Leibniz’s present inhabitance compelled my response to your invitation.  The best of all possible worlds, c’est ne pas?”  He scratched a tuft of hair over his ear and continued.  “Leibniz is an unreliable advocate for a cruel world, an apologist for a non-existent God, a God whom, as I have famously said, we have had to invent since He does not exist.” 

The Duke scoffed. “My wife and daughter are amused by him, for that reason alone I bear him.” 

 “Il faut cultivre notre jardin, you must agree.

“We must cultivate our own gardens, yes, that is another of your elegant aphorisms.  Well,” the Duke gestured equivocally, “I am a man too busy for gardens, aphorisms, or such twaddle.  Such is the misfortune of high office: to order and rule, but neither to love nor be loved.  Love is accepting that what who we dream of does not dream of us.” 

Francois M. clicked his tongue on his superior palate (the white bacteria indicating the presence of Candida Albicans).  “You love your daughter?” 

“She’s my daughter.

“A daughter you have requested me to mort-er… c’est ne pas?

The Duke shifted in his chair, crossing his stockinged legs beneath the table. This kind of impertinence was to be expected from Francois M., a seditious philosopher and assassin from Paris whose curriculum-vitae and –mortui were known throughout Europe.  Consultants had warned him of the philosopher’s contrarian nature, but it was this attitude of contemptuous superiority that especially tired the Duke now.

 “Still, she is my daughter,” he said, “and duty directs polite words. However, now that we have arrived at the topic, allow me provide you with some materials.”  The two officers of the court approached the table and laid several parchments and manuscripts before the Duke, who began sifting through them with his eyes inches from the table.  Francois M. raised his good eye with interest, producing the impression of a nefarious wink. The Duke pointed to one of the documents and said: “This is her room at the auxiliary palace, and this is the basement, where it is said she often is found.” 

“And whom shall I say I represent and convey?” asked Francois M. 

“Don’t concern yourself with that.”  The Duke said this with a grimace of displeasure.  “There is such debauchery there, such lack of discrimination that even servants, witches, and those who speak vernacular are invited to attend. My daughter has surrounded herself with children and dreamers, credulous simpletons who believe in fairy tales.  They will not ask of you.”

Among the materials on the table was a portrait depicting Sophie Charlotte, the sixteen-year old daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Hanover, on her wedding day last year, to Frederick, the Elector of Brandenburg. Her face, still reflecting the delicate malleability of youth, was held in the composed mien demanded by conventions of the period—to smile in a portrait was then seen as indecorous. Frederick’s arm hooked her shoulder in a proprietary manner. 

 “And where is this Herr Leibniz?” Francois M. said, collected the remaining materials from the table. 

“In the Harz Mountains, working on a windmill.”

“A windmill?”

“Just another of his schemes.”  The Duke flipped his hand to indicate scorn.  “He considers everything possible,” he added.  “The operation is unsuccessful and I’ll soon recall him.  Do you have everything you need?”

Non.”  Francois M. creased the materials for the assassination of Sophie Charlotte into the central pocket of the briefcase he carried and, after removing a scroll and writing instruments from a distal fold, resumed his seat at the table.  “I require my payment at this time.”

“Which is?”

Francois M. leaned back and tapped his cane slowly on the stone floor: “Why, naturally.”

“Why what?”

“Why must your daughter die?” 

In her chambers, the Duchess of Hanover stood in a torus-shaped gown with a correspondence about Sophie Charlotte in her hand, looking down upon the geometry of Herrenhausen.  The design, preparation, and construction of the Garden Project had been supervised by Leibniz and informed by his love for all things and curiosity regarding foreign flora, about which he frequently read.  It took nearly ten years to complete.  What he could not grow natively, he imported; what he could not import, he simulated.  The Duchess remembered Leibniz’s speculative statement that the sandbox, of which he was most proud, represented the future of possibility (in the form of what he hypothesized were constituent silicone granules), but then her thoughts returned once again to Sophie Charlotte and the letter she had just received. 

“Have the dinner arrangements for our guests been accomplished?” asked the Duke, appearing in the doorway.

“We have received another correspondence about Sophie Charlotte.”  The Duchess walked across the room with her long chin held high, handed him the letter, and walked back to the window, whose surface she pensively palmed.  “From Mathilde.” 

Mathilde had grown up with Sophie Charlotte in Hanover and had been commissioned to accompany her to Brandenburg to assist with all who knew Sophie Charlotte’s temperament (especially Leibniz) predicted would be a difficult transition. Six months ago the proud parents received the first letter from Mathilde.  Its testimony was concerning: Sophie Charlotte had damaged her crown sliding down a banister drunk; she had lost ten pounds because she refused to eat; in the neighboring laborer towns, tales circulated of orgies between her and boys with thick foreheads and no knowledge of Latin, and the way the moon twinkled her ripped moiré fabrics when she climbed down from her balcony was local myth.

“Apparently our daughter has removed herself from Frederick’s love,” the Duchess said, and even out of the palace. “She now lives, if that’s the word, in an auxiliary palace ten miles south of Brandenburg. People attend there in various masks, imbibe various spirits, and parody all civilized form.”

“I know.”

“Should we intervene?”

“It’s taken care of,” said the Duke.

 “Did you send Leibniz?”

“I don’t see why he should always be involved in family business,” the Duke muttered.   

“Sophie Charlotte trusts him. I can’t think of anyone else we can say that of.” 

“That’s why she’s like this. She was raised on those fancies of his: logical possibility, romantic love, individual dignity.”  He noticed he was speaking too rapidly and cleared his throat.  “I implicate these beliefs as the cause of this decadence, all these rash deeds.”

“I’m writing him a letter,” said the Duchess, sitting down at her desk.

“I would not advise that.” 

“But she’s our daughter!

The Duke shrugged. “We are part of something greater.  I have taken care of things.” 

 

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz removed his spectacles, squeezed the rounded cartilage in the bump of his nose, and murmured, “So much to do, so little time,” inventing an immortal phrase for which he would never receive credit—there would be so many things for which he would never receive credit.  His brown eyes looked severe glassed behind his spectacles, but contracted into vulnerable, almost melancholy points when exposed.  The spectacles rested on the inclined draftsman’s table he sat before; the table was covered by papers with graphs, equations, designs, and correspondences he was reading while eating his eupeptic supper of brown bread and milk. 

The table and chair he sat in were the only items of furniture in the simple wood cabin which had been improvised for his stay in the Harz Mountains, the altitude of which aggravated his gout and created sinal complications.  He blew his nose.  Leibniz’s rubicund complexion and flabby broad chin were typical of a German of that time, but the ostentatious wig he wore from his days in Paris was an affectation for which he was ridiculed behind his back by the Hanoverian court and to his face by the rude Thirty-Year War veterans who labored skeptically on the construction of the windmills. Leibniz was so short and his wig so affected that it looked like a knight’s plumed helmet attached to the head of an infant, the Duke had once remarked.

Leibniz sat at his table thinking of many things, some possible, some abstract, but one thing he most definitely thought of was Hanover.  He missed Hanover, although it is true that when in Hanover he spent most of his time and energy arguing for his presence in the illustrious cities of Europe—Paris (he would never forget his years there), London, Vienna. But what he regretted when traveling was the feeling of security Hanover provided him with, a feeling that settled his nerves, and a schedule which aided his research into mathematics, physics, the natural sciences, metaphysics, Chinese ideograms, exotic geography and geology, theodicy, and logical possibility.  Most importantly, the presence of his closest friend, the Duchess. No other human—from others he often felt separated as if by a plane of glass—cured his loneliness as she did, and learning, the love of objects and words, was insufficient to cure his sense of isolation and disconnection. 

But he had other concerns than the windmill, his loneliness, and his gout—there’s always something, another phrase he often used. Two correspondences had arrived, together but exclusive. The first from the Duke, terminating the windmill experiment and ordering that Leibniz return to Hanover; the other from the Duchess, intimating that Sophie Charlotte’s emotional problems had re-surfaced in Brandenburg. Three possible decision, therefore: to Brandenburg (as the Duchess wished), to Hanover (as the Duke wished), or to remain in Harz, in service to humanity and his intellectual responsibilities.

The foreman walked through the cabin’s threshold holding his hat.  “More problems, sir,” he said.  After waiting for a minute, the foreman cleared his throat. “Herr Leibniz?”

Leibniz looked from the correspondence to the foreman.  “Indeed,” he said, standing and creasing the letter from the Duchess and placing it in a fold in his long cloak. “Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to learn,” he said, taking the foreman by his arm and walking down with him to the wilted windmill.

Leibniz arrived at the castle later that same night accompanied by Lord Pangloss, a clerk of the court whom the Duke had ordered to convey Leibniz eastward. The Lord also had an additional document written by the Duke for Francois M.

Placing his briefcase on the floor of the broad entrance hall, Leibniz looked around the castle with his ubiquitous curiosity, coughing bronchially. There were bodies passed out like the dead in Brueghel paintings, furniture broken and wet with urine, things written on walls in exotic vernaculars. He walked quietly down the steps toward the mournful sounds of a piano’s repeating tinkled notes. 

From the threshold he recognized her hair, which had been dyed with some herb with bleach-like properties and trailed down to her waist as it had when she was a child.  She was slumped on the bench, tapping with one finger the same despondent note. After a few moments of reflection, he walked away sadly, wondering what it was about this generation that made it so prone to melancholy and anomie.  How could it not perceive the wonder of things, the pre-established harmony and collaboration within the universe—how could they not find one thing to love, even if they remained unloved themselves (as he admitted he himself was unloved)? 

 

Francois M. was exhausted; he was in his room at the castle preparing the lethal concoction for Sophie Charlotte.  He had no interest anymore in making murders look like suicides.  Sure, talk of suicide epidemics for which he was significantly responsible once made him proud, but the event itself now, the way the focus of dead eyes turned in on themselves like the wilting of petals and portrayed a boredom he met nowhere but in his own looking-glass—to these his heart had grown unresponsive.

He’d killed more than a hundred, but less than a thousand. The third edition of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy cited statistics partially determined by Francois M. himself. He knew this, but nobody else did, which made him feel lonely. The feeling of your true self being unrecognized by others—a feeling he’d felt since he was a young child, that there was him, and there was the world, and that the two were fundamentally incompatible, separated as if by a plane of glass.  His response to this was to declare war on the Other, on that to which he could not relate. 

Lord Pangloss walked into the room, stared in wonder, and cleared his throat. With a glance, he indicated the scroll he held in his hands. 

“The Duke has requested an additional operation from you,” Lord Pangloss said. 

“Leave it.”

“Of course,” he said.

Francois M. unwound the scroll and read its brief contents, and the hint of a smile appeared on his face. He read on, a rare excitement bumping his heart. It’s one thing to portray the false suicide of a maimed Thirty-Years War veteran; yet another still, a melancholy young princess. But it’s a whole other unprecedented thing to falsify the suicide of the foremost philosopher of secular happiness, optimism, and trust in the world.  “Murder Leibniz too,” the document read. 

 

When Leibniz awoke Sophie Charlotte stood in his room’s doorway.  Her stained nightgown trailed down over her knees, below her waist where her hands fluttered, unfisted, thumbs rubbing the hem. Her gaunt eyes followed him as he stumbled erect in the bed, reaching for his peruke on the bedside table and squinting into his spectacles. He lit a candle.  Her eyes glowed and hung in her face like captured things. She twisted her mouth into a pained smile resembling a grimace and said, “I knew you would come, but I don’t speak in Latin no more.”  She shut the door behind her. “I only speak in vernacular now.”  

“I don’t like your arms,” Leibniz said. “I don’t see why.”

“They remind me,” Sophie said. “I’m trying to remember.”

“No, I don’t like them at all.”

Sophie rubbed her arms, which were covered with scars.

“You lied,” she said. “I’m not angry,” she continued, approaching the foot of the bed, “I just think that you should stop saying stuff like that to people, stuff like rumors of what’s possible.”

“Rumors of the possible?  Everything’s possible.  You know this, Sophie.”

“To be a beautiful thing, a great person, that’s what I wanted. You said I could. You said I could be beautiful and happy, doing things with people on islands with citrus. Anything’s possible, you said, in the garden so long ago, remember? The sandbox, remember?”  Leibniz didn’t say anything. He just there upright in bed, his mouth silently moving.

She walked across the room, pulling a strand of hair behind her ear, and sat down on the bed beside him.

“I love you, Sophie,” he said. “A lot of people–“

“You love everything.”

“If you live as long as I have, you will too.”

“Well I won’t live as long as you, and that’s why I ran away, to here.”

“I can whisper you a secret that will make your life amazing. Can I tell it to you?”

Sophie Charlotte shrugged, but didn’t move away. 

“Lean closer…”

 

Francois M. snuck through the castle in darkness, his hips square to the wall for feeling. His sneaking was more of an adjustment to shadows and the feeling of walls. One benefit of granite-floors: no possibility of creaking.  Then he saw a beam of light bisecting the floor below. He strode down the stairs sticking in the shadow until he arrived at the door. He leaned by the door listening, clutching the killing materials. He was happy then.  A girl’s tearful voice spoke in vernacular, but the man, his voice calm and reassuring, spoke in Latin, rhapsodizing about concepts like love, possibility, and optimism.  It was Leibniz.  Francois M. stood there in the shadows, listening, his heart beating faster than it had since he was young, when everything seemed possible, before the betrayals, frustrations and loneliness of adult life had turned his child’s curiosity and trust into ennui and desperate rage.  He pulled out the potions, uncorking the bottles and approaching the door. 

______________________________________________________________

James McAdams has published fiction in Temple’s TINGE Magazine and Carbon Culture Review, serial microfictions in the Annals of American Psychotherapy, as well as forthcoming fiction pieces in per contra and Modern Language Studies. Before matriculating at college, he was a social worker in the Philadelphia suburbs. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate at Lehigh University, where he teaches writing, tutors, and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth.

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If I Never Get Back

Written by Darryl Brock

470 pages

Published by Plume Books

Review by Paula Day


I am a lifelong baseball fan. Growing up in southern California, some of my fondest memories of childhood was laying on the carpeting in the living room listening with my father to the Los Angeles Dodger baseball games as they were being called by Vin Scully. I have never left my love of baseball behind, and I was thrilled to discover the baseball historical novel If I Never Get Back and its sequel, Two in the Field.

If I Never Get Back is set during the post-Civil War era, the baby days of baseball. Samuel Clemens Fowler (named for Mark Twain) steps off a train and discovers that he has left the twentieth century behind and arrived in 1869. Sam soon finds himself joined with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team. As Sam joins his new teammates on their first cross-country tour, he meets his namesake Twain and inadvertantly invents the bunt.

Darryl Brock does a fine job creating the same fish-out-of-water feeling we find in Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. We have a strong sense of Sam’s outsidedness as he mingles with men with different opinions and different wordviews and even different rules for baseball. During the early development of baseball there were few, if any, rules to the game. It was each man for his own as the men played without gloves and the catcher wore no protective gear.

Fans of baseball will enjoy Brock’s realistic baseball scenes. You can feel yourself at the ballgames, watching the balls whiz by overhead, hearing the snap of the bats and the cheers of the crowd. Learning little-known details about the beginnings of baseball is a good thing for any baseball fan since baseball fans like to out-do each other in their knowledge of the game. If I Never Get Back is a great read for baseball fans as well as for those with an interest in post-Civil War America.


Paula Day is the Review Editor of The Copperfield Review and the Managing Editor of Copperfield Press. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

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Farewell, Shanghai

Written by Angel Wagenstein

382 pages

Published by Other Press

Review by Charlene Tolberg

 

From the moment I picked up this novel I was fascinated by the story, which is set around World War II and the Shanghai ghetto. I, like many others, was not even aware of the existence of the Shanghai ghetto, which was yet another atrocity inflicted upon the Jews during World War II. As Jews began to be persecuted under the Nazi regime, many European Jews fled to Shanghai. But Shanghai was under Japanese occupation at the time and so a section of the city, Hongku, was created into yet another Jewish ghetto. The Jewish inhabitants suffered at the hands of the Japanese, and they were forced to live in deplorable conditions, but they were also brave people and managed to carve a place for themselves in a cold, violent world. In fact, many of the Jewish inhabitants of the Shanghai ghetto were intellectuals, artists, and musicians. This story is not so much about the Shanghai ghetto itself as the people who lived there and struggled, determined to survive.

Angel Wagenstein, the author of Farewell, Shanghai, has an interesting story himself. During World War II he was interned in a Jewish camp which he fled to help fight in the antifascist resistance. For this novel he based his information about the Jewish exiles living in Shanghai on real-life people. For his research he read memoirs, conducted personal interviews, and even visited China, and his novel reveals the personal touch, as though these are not fictional characters but true flesh and blood people who suffered terribly yet persevered.

For bringing to life a part of World War II history that is largely unknown, Wagenstein deserves five quills. Though it is a sad story, at its heart it is a story about strength and courage, and it is a story that we all should be aware of. This novel succeeds because Wagenstein manages to connect us on a personal level to the people who suffered in Shanghai. ______________________________________________________________

Charlene Tolberg is a wife, mother, and writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. She is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing from UC Santa Barbara.

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Volume 11 Number 2 Summer 2012

Like our new look? After 11 years, we thought it was time for a facelift–well, maybe not quite a facelift, though we have had a little Botox. Please excuse our dust while we continue moving into our new digs. One of the cool features of our new site is the addition of an Archives, which our contributors have been requesting. We’ll be adding all the reviews, interviews, and writers resources over the next few weeks. We’re excited about the more interactive aspects of this new site. We hope you like it!

It’s still A Dickens of a Year at The Copperfield Review.  Our Dickens essays and reviews are still on our Nonfiction page, and we’re not done yet. Executive Editor Meredith Allard has more to say on our Dear Readers page. We’ll be adding more Dickens reviews and essays throughout this edition–and throughout 2012!

We are now accepting submissions via our E-Submissions Manager. See our Guidelines for more information. For helpful tips on submitting to editors, check here.

We are thrilled to have 5000 friends on our Facebook page. If you’d like to keep up to date with the latest news and information from The Copperfield Review, you can subscribe to our Facebook feed or like our new page. For tips on blogging, marketing, publishing, writing, creativity, or if you need a little inspiration, follow our Twitter feed.

Her Loving Husband’s Curse, Book Two in The Loving Husband Trilogy, is now available from Copperfield Press.

ISSN 1533-3736
The Copperfield Review, A Journal for Readers and Writers of Historical Fiction  Published by Copperfield Publications © 2001-2012. All rights reserved.

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