Monday, October 15, 2018

Lifting a Woolen Veil

I think of Lifting the Veil as part of a wedding ritual in cultures where marriages are arranged and in theory the groom would not ever have seen the bride’s face until the veil-lifting. The superstition of bad luck if the groom sees the bride on their wedding day before the ceremony may come from this.

That said, I don’t currently have anything further to say about the wedding aspect. I could see some future story line developing, but the paranormal or ghostly interpretation of lifting the veil as some of you have done seems much more intriguing. I was tempted to turn to the only ghost story I’ve ever written, but the atmosphere of that one just doesn’t fit. A ghost that maliciously manifests when a dog digs bits of its long-buried body out of the wall of a collapsed dugout house from pioneer days seems too, well, gritty to have anything to do with veils. A different interpretation could deal with the solving of mysteries, but I haven’t done much of that sort of thing, either, although the body in the wall does involve a mystery to be solved. The heroine, who has herself escaped from a contemporary illegal multi-wife commune in Utah, eventually figures out that the ghost is that of the long-past pursuer of two runaway sister-wives passing as teenage boys who came this way many years ago, passed a winter in the dugout, then escaped for good when the earth caved in on their former captor. As I said, more grit than veil.

But another, more mundane interpretation could involve trying to deceive someone, “pulling the wool over their eyes,” and being discovered. Never mind that veils tend to be more diaphanous than most wool. So I’ll resort to that sort of thing, with an excerpt from the same story I quoted last time, when a Mongol General appointed by the invading Khan to be governor of an Armenian province encounters the Lady who already governs it by birthright.
From “A Falcon in Flight” in Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors, edited by Delilah Devlin.

This Mongol was less ugly than expected, Ardzvik thought. Perhaps even handsome if one became accustomed to his shaven head, bold, high cheekbones, and tilted eyes beneath eyebrows with the graceful swoop of a hawk’s wing. Muscular, as well, which would please Leyli, and a fine rider, though Leyli’s interest in riding did not always involve horses.
Ardzvik sensed the shift in Leyli’s mood. One form of tension had yielded to quite another. “So, sweet sister,” she murmured, “are you still of a mind to slay this Governor should you get the chance?” She would not permit Leyli to do any such thing, of course, bringing the fury of Batu Khan’s forces down upon them, as Leyli knew quite well.
“Yes, I will kill him if I can! For the sake of poor Mihran! But…not, I think, right away.” Leyli allowed her milk-white mare to fidget under her, enough to draw the Mongol’s attention away from Father Kristopor’s diplomatic speech of welcome. The man had already surveyed the mare with all the admiration due her, and Leyli too, though less overtly. Now, as the girl peered flirtatiously through lowered eyelashes and fiddled in feigned nervousness with her long golden hair, it seemed that he could scarcely wrench his gaze away.
Ardzvik’s own high-bred bay mount had been assessed favorably as well, though she herself elicited a puzzled frown. Just as she had intended. Despite Father Kristopor’s disapproval, she was dressed soberly in garb so simple that she might have been mistaken for someone of much lower rank, in contrast to Leyli’s azure robes gleaming with gold brocade. All the easier to assess his reaction to her half-sister’s charms before Ardzvik had cause to care. Not that such a thing was remotely possible.
She had not much cared that “poor Mihran,” a minor prince of Georgia sent officially to court her, had lost his heart and whatever virginity he might have had to Leyli instead. Ardzvik was sorry for his death during the fall of Georgia, but not on a personal level. Better she should never care over-much for any man.
Father Kristopor closed his speech with an offer of the hospitality of the castle as lodging for the Darugha and his men. The interpreter did his part, and the Mongol said a few words in response. The priest signaled for Ardzvik and Leyli and their retinue to advance. They rode forward out of the shadow of the ancient stone church at a stately pace.
This encounter had been staged in the town’s center as a diplomatic compromise. The ruling family need not go as supplicants to the Darugha’s great golden tent, nor he with his men as conquerors to the gates of their castle. The Lady of Aragatsotn was a vassal, not a slave.
The interpreter, a handsome young man with Persian features, spoke toward the space between Ardzvik’s dark head and Leyli’s fair one. Good. Father Kristopor had obeyed her order to be deliberately vague as to which was the ruler and which was not. “His Eminence Yul Darugha thanks the Lady of Aragatsotn for her offer of the hospitality of her castle. However, it is his custom to sleep only within his personal tent.”
Ardzvik felt the gaze of Yul Darugha sweep over her, linger on her horse, then return to her face. She met his keen eyes, saw that he had not been deceived after all, lifted her chin proudly, and spoke not in Armenian but in the basic Turkic tongue most often used between tradesmen in the various countries of the lower Caucasus. “If Yul Darugha pleases, we would offer a feast in his honor tonight, to be held in the gardens of the castle.” It was well known by now that the nomadic Mongols were ill at ease confined within rigid walls.
With no pause for instructions the interpreter began to decline this invitation, too, as expected—the Governor had not been known to dine with any of such noble families as remained--but a rich, deep voice startled them all.
“Yul Darugha will be pleased to accept.”
That voice penetrated all the way into Ardzvik’s bones. For a moment she did not comprehend the words, though they were spoken in the same tongue she had used. So the interpreter had been merely a formality! With an effort she inclined her head briefly. “We shall be honored by his presence, and that of his men.” She looked up to see a hint of amusement on the Governor’s sun-browned face. Without another word, to her disappointment—why did she wish so to hear that voice again? To feel it?—he turned his dun horse and moved away toward the camp outside the town with his two dozen soldiers following.
“Father Kristopor said the man would never accept the invitation!” Leyli trotted at her side as they turned toward the road to Aragatsotn Castle.
“Yes, he did.” The priest had looked more pleased than surprised. Ardzvik would have words with him later. “So now there is much to be done.”
(And a bit later)
 “Take me to see your horses,” he said abruptly. Ardzvik heard movement at the table they had left, along with Leyli’s ever-resilient voice raised in laughter, and understood his request. She led him quickly to a gate that gave onto a path leading downhill to a cluster of stables and a fenced field. A dozen horses grazed there, while others, including those of the visiting Mongols, could be seen on a plateau slightly lower on the mountainside.
Leyli’s white mare came up to the gate at once, snuffling hopefully for treats. Yul Darugha ran a hand along her neck until she moved petulantly away since nothing edible was forthcoming. “A pretty creature,” he said, “like her mistress.” He looked to where Ardzvik’s blood bay advanced and retreated, wishing to come to his mistress, displeased by the stranger’s presence. “But yours, Lady Ardzvik, is the nobler beast by far. A touch of the Arab for grace and beauty.” She nodded assent. “I knew at once,” he went on, “that the rider of such a mount must be the true ruler here.”

Yes, I admit it, this story is from one of those books with a naked male torso on the cover, so if I’ve ever given an impression of being entirely concerned with quite a different genre, I guess I’ve lifted that veil. But just briefly. Probably. That’s the only time I’ve ventured into quite that territory. So far.


  1. Very apt excerpt, Sacchi.

    Funny, I hadn't thought about the wedding connection at all. On the other hand, I toyed with some ideas involving the chador of a Muslim woman...

  2. I remember an earlier excerpt you posted form this story. True, I never thought of you when I saw the call-for-submissions for "Hot Highlanders," an antho of het romance. But it seems you pulled it off, so to speak.

    1. Sometimes I see a submissions call that sparks an idea of a way to use research I've already done. The Mongol invasion of Europe had interested me for a long time, and I'd read anything I could find about the roles of Mongol women back then, thinking I might someday write an historical lesbian piece about them. They were, in fact, often in positions of power or riding along with the rest of the troops. Women controlled the homes, since they made the felt the portable dwellings were made of. They could grant or refuse the men room in their houses.

      Maybe someday I'll go back to that plan, but when Delilah (who has written for me) sent me the CFS, my story of a Mongol general and an Armenian aristocrat leaped right into my mind. Plus I wanted to write something about horses, and about falconry, which does play a part in the story.


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