Page 10 - Vladimir Bartol ALAMUT
P. 10

12 Vladimir Bartol ALAMUTwalked. Practically each girl wore a unique color that suited her best. Close-fitting halters were sumptuously embroidered and decorated with gold clasps, into which gemstones had been set. Beneath these were brightly colored blouses of the finest silk. Each of them wore rich brace- lets on her wrists and necklaces of pearl or coral. Some walked barehead- ed, while others wore kerchiefs wrapped around their heads like small turbans. Their sandals had been artfully carved from colored leather. Halima looked at her own wretchedness and felt ashamed.Maybe this is why they were laughing at me before, she thought.They had approached the castle. It was round in shape and encircled by white stone staircases that led to its entrance. The roof was supported by numerous columns reminiscent of an ancient temple.An older woman emerged from the castle. She was long and thin as a pole and carried herself very upright and, it seemed, proudly. She was dark skinned with sunken cheeks. There was something intense in her big dark eyes, and her thin, compressed lips gave an impression of obdu- racy and strictness. From behind her some sort of yellowish cat came trotting out, extraordinarily big, with unusually long legs. It caught sight of Halima and gave a hostile hiss.Halima cried out in fright and pressed close to her protector, who tried to comfort her.“Don’t be afraid of our Ahriman. He may be a real leopard, but he’s as tame as a lamb and wouldn’t harm anyone. When he gets used to you, the two of you will become good friends.”She called the animal to come and took firm hold of it by the collar. She spoke to it until it stopped snarling and baring its teeth.“See, he tamed down right away. Once you get your clothes changed, he’ll treat you as family. Now pet him, so he can get used to you. Don’t be afraid, I’m holding onto him.”Halima fought back her instinctive fear. From a distance she reached forward, putting her left hand on her knee and, with her right, gently stroking the leopard’s back. The animal arched its back like a housecat and gave a contented growl. Halima jumped back, then laughed along with the other girls.“Who is this timid monkey, Miriam?” the old woman asked her protector, piercing Halima with her gaze.

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