Page 9 - Vladimir Bartol ALAMUT
P. 9

Fiction SANJE 11Halima was amazed.They walked past rose gardens. The bushes were carefully pruned, and there were plump buds on the branches, some of them already producing red, white and yellow flowers.The path led them still farther through thick groves of pomegranates, dense with red flowers. Then came rows of lemon and peach trees. They came upon orchards of almonds and quinces, apples and pears.Halima’s eyes widened.“What’s your name, little one?” one of the girls asked her. “Halima,” she whispered almost soundlessly.They laughed at Halima so much that tears nearly came to their eyes. “Stop laughing, you nasty monkeys,” Halima’s protector scoldedthem. “Leave the girl alone. Let her catch her breath. She’s tired and confused.”To Halima she said, “Don’t take them wrong. They’re young and boisterous and when you get to know them better, you’ll see they aren’t mean. They’re going to like you a lot.”They came to a cypress grove. Halima heard the purling of water from all sides. Somewhere far off, the water rumbled like rapids funnel- ing into a waterfall. Something glinted through the trees. Halima was curious. Soon she was able to make out a small castle in a clearing, show- ing white in the sunlight. The castle fronted a circular pond with a foun- tain. They paused here and Halima looked around.On all sides they were surrounded by high mountains. The sun bore down on the rocky slopes and illuminated the snow-covered peaks. She looked in the direction from which they had come. Between two slopes forming a gorge at the end of the valley there stood, as if dropped into place by design, an enormous rock resembling a mountain. On its peak stood a mighty fortress which shone white in the morning sun.“What is that?” she asked fearfully, pointing toward the walls with two tall towers rising up at either end.Her protector answered her. “There will be time enough for ques- tions later. You’re tired, and first we need to get you a bath, feed you, and let you rest.”Gradually Halima lost her fear and began to observe her escorts carefully. Each of them struck her as more charmingly and beautiful- ly dressed than the last. The silk of their broad trousers rustled as they

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