Read Beast Online

Authors: Donna Jo Napoli

Beast

CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

MAP

PART I

The Curse

THE CAMEL

THE PARI

KOOMA

THE PLAN

PART II

Strange Life

BL00D

BIRDS

DEATH

PART III

Lion

ALONE

INDIA

MY PRIDE

TRAVELING AGAIN

TWO YEARS

PART IV

New Words

A MAN

GOLE SOURKH

LARDER

CANDLES

MY CHILD

BELLE

DEER

DIDO

LETTERS

AT LAST

AUTHOR'S NOTE

GLOSSARY

AUTHOR'S NOTE ON LANGUAGE

For Cylin Busby, as she makes the journey for love

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

For help on earlier drafts, from matters of Islam and Persian history to matters of India and wildlife to matters of storytelling, I thank Barry Furrow, Eva Furrow, Robert Furrow, Nick Furrow, Ayeh Asiaii, Wendy Cholbi, Amani Elkassabany, Elaine Huang, Ruqayya Khan, Emily Manetta, Helen Napoli, Ramneek Pooni, Melissa Running, Roya Salehi, and Richard Tchen. For being such a demanding and kind editorial team, I thank Brenda Bowen, Cylin Busby, and Caitlyn Dlouhy.

PART 1
The Curse

CHAPTER ONE
The Camel

The lion-ape lunges from the tree a moment too late;

Bahram Chubina's arrow has already sealed his fate.

I
gasp roughly. Beast and warrior glow white, burning, against the gold ground. The sun glints off the illuminated pages as it glints off the metal
mar
—snake—that twists around and around from my wrist to my elbow. My fists clench; I am aghast at dying, aghast at killing.

“Orasmyn?”

I turn, startled.

Mother comes in, her face unveiled — she has not yet left the palace this morning. The pleasure of seeing the dark sliver moons under her eyes, her full cheeks, pulls me at once from the violence on the page to the sweet calm of our lives.

Father, the Shah of all Persia, has promised to find me a suitable wife soon. I will be the first adult male outside the young woman's family to ever set eyes on her bare face, to ever know her mysteries. Warmth threads up my throat to my cheeks. I stroke my short beard and smile broad to hide my thoughts.

Mother smiles in return. “You're reading the
Shahnameh
yet again?” She comes to my reading platform and bends over me. Her hair hangs wavy, freed from the braids that hold it tight at night and that she will rebraid before going outside today. It brushes my arm. With a fingertip she traces the spine of the lion-ape. “His eyes speak anguish.”

Her words touch me with their femininity. Women speak through their eyes from behind the
chador
—the veil—that shrouds all else. They are accustomed to listening to the eyes of others, even those whose full faces show.

“Shall I read to you?”

“Battle stories.” Mother wrinkles her nose. “I prefer Islamic verse.”

“Islamic verse is in Arabic. These are stories in our own strong Persian. And they're not all battle. Let me read to you of Malika falling in love with Shahpour.” Already I am thumbing back through the earlier pages.

Mother squats and catches my hand between hers.
“Orasmyn, I've got a present for you. In my room. A book by Saadi.”

The prospect intrigues me, for this great mystic, this Sufi, is known for mixing the spirit of Islam with the culture of Persia. But Mother's tone irritates. I pull my hand away. “I don't need help in choosing my reading.”

“We all need help, Orasmyn.”

“A prince doesn't.”

Mother presses her lips together in a thin line. Then her face softens again. “I see you've done your prayers.” Her finger now runs the part in the middle of my hair that I made during my cleaning ritual, the
wudhu,
before the prayers that precede sunrise. “Why didn't you come eat with us?” she asks. “Your father and I will be busy with festival duties most of the day. We had hoped to see you this morning, at least.”

Today is the Feast of Sacrifices. Every royal family in every town across Persia has invited the poor to partake of the meat from the animal they will sacrifice this noon. Here in Tabriz there will be a double offering, for my family will add a sacrifice of our own to that of the local royal family. “I don't plan to eat on this festival,” I say.

“Is that so?” Mother looks at me with curiosity. “You're dressed as a
hajji
—a pilgrim.” Fondly, she brushes the folds of cloth on my back.

I draped this white cloth around me as the sun rose. It is almost a year since I returned from my pilgrimage to Mecca. These days, when I go out, I wear my ordinary tunic under royal robes, though of course I carry prayer beads and wear a white hat always. But today I will stand in white cloth with the other
hajjiha,
a cloud of purity. “I'm assisting at the sacrifice.”

“Ah.” Mother nods. “Then I understand your fasting. But, son, my gentle prince, not every
hajji
must take part.”

I hear the question under her words. As a child I ran from the sacrifices, from the spilling of blood. As an adult, I take no part in the hunts. Mother says I am like the flowers that grow in my treasured gardens, more tender than flesh should be.

Still, today I fight off trepidation. The sacrifice is compassionate; as my father's heir, I must understand that. The animal dies to commemorate the ancient sacrifice by Ibrahim. “Don't worry about me.” I kiss Mother's hand.

“I'll leave you to prepare, then,” she says, straightening up. “At the prayers before the sacrifice, be sure to make your
rakatha—
your bows —deep and low, and to linger a moment before rising. That way I can pick you out from the other
hajjiha
and send you my strength.” Mother leaves.

Her strength? A prince should rely on no one.
But it is too late to protest; she is gone.

I open the rear doors, which give directly out to my private garden for praying, my
belaq.
We have palaces in many cities, and I have taken part in designing the gardens at three of them. I work with a cohort of servants, planting, pruning, mulching.

My special fragrance garden around the throne room in the central pavilion of our Isfahan palace is continuously in flower. The carpet I stand on now depicts that garden. The border bands hold daisies and pomegranates and heads of lions. This rug makes my feet want to climb. We winter in Isfahan, of course, on the arid plateau almost completely ringed by mountains.

My yellow roses are at our palace in Shiraz. On the first day of spring, we celebrate Naurouz, New Year s, there, surrounded by flowering persimmons. I always beg Father to take us to Shiraz early, even as early as the end of February, so that we can feel the
bade gulhaye sourkh
—the wind of roses—that blows strong in the afternoon. Processions fill the streets with music and torches for thirty days. I throw coins with lions stamped on them to the people I pass. They throw rose petals in return. All flowers grow in Shiraz, but
gulhaye sourkh—
roses—are what they throw, because the rose is my favorite, Prince Orasmyn's favorite.

But Shiraz is too hot in summer. So we return
north to Tabriz, the capital, where I tend my most extensive gardens.

I step outside now and pass through my walled
belaq
out to the public gardens. To the west stands the mosque. To the south and east and north stretches garden. My eyes follow straight pebbled paths interrupted at regular intervals by a series of steps, on and on, until the paths are lost in the trees and the mountains beyond. It is easy to fool myself into thinking the garden continues forever—infinite.

I imagine I feel a wet breeze from the Caspian Sea to the east—though it is more than a days journey away. I emerge from the shadows of the portico and walk along a
maddi
—a water channel—to the reflecting pool. The people will gather here after the sacrifice to await the cooked meat. The pavilion on the north side will host the men, while that on the south will host the women. Columns hold up the roofs of the pavilions, columns spaced widely, so that one group can easily see what the other does. The voices will be loud and happy.

But right now the pool and garden are mine. The air is faint with white jasmine. Clover and aromatic grasses crush soft under my bare feet. Sour cherry trees fan out in star designs. I step up onto the
talar,
the platform overlooking the pool, and gaze at the black-and-white limestone colonnades of the palace.
The early sun gives an orangish sheen to the stones, almost the color of henna, and an idea comes to me.

Mother said not every
hajji
must take part in the sacrifice. So nothing should prescribe the participation of those
hajjiha
who do take part. Joyous moment, I am free to choose what duties I assume.

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