Part 1: link Valley of Kashmir, Northern India, some 200 years before the reign of Elizabeth I
Tassja_g “It began as a teardrop in Babylon. Where the sunlight came from Astarte, shameless goddess of the fecund feminine. The boteh. Stylized rendition of the date-palm shoot, arbre of life, fertility symbol... Some historians claim it travelled to Mughal courts from Victorian England as the foliaged shape of a herbal. But a legend in Kashmir calls it the footprint of the goddess Parvati. As she ran through the Himalayas at the dawn of time.”
Shailja Patel ‘How Ambi Became Paisely’
The long journey across the Arabian Peninsula and down through the mountains was redeemed at last, and Arthur stood surveying the émeraude valley with satisfaction. Soft mists drifted across the plain like veils of finest muslin, and the sunlight was no longer harsh or but soft and clear as water. That imitation muslin Cendred's been peddling will be worth less than dung when I get these Kashmiri wares on the market.
"Come on, Myriddin!" he called to his clerk, a slender man overburdened with cases of clothes and paperwork and carefully hidden gold. Myriddin huffed and puffed behind him, complaining as usual that leaving his little village in Wales to travel the merchant routes with Arthur was the most regrettable mistake imaginable.
Too cheerful to mind Myriddin's complains, he clapped a friendly hand on his shoulder as they made their way down the valley.
Toma, one of the chief loom-makers, welcomed them gladly. A widower with two children, his skill with wood and his daughter's prowess with weaving had seen them comfortably settled in their valley home. But when Arthur ventured to ask about price and quality, Toma shook his head, "You'll have to talk to my daughter about that. She's adamant about not selling to merchants, says such trade cheapens the art," he shrugged, "The neighbors trade us enough of what we need. Ah, Guanhumara, there toi are."
Arthur looked up as the petite and graceful figure of Toma's daughter came into view. His breath caught in his throat. Vaguely he felt Myriddin nudge him, "Stop staring, toi clotpole."
All the lands and seas he'd traversed, no woman had captivated him so at first glance. Curls delicate as kisses escaped from her braid to brush the tantalizingly honeyed skin, and he could discern the outline of lush, elegant curves beneath the soft folds of her yellow sari. The swell of her breasts, tapering to a waist his hands could easily engulf, was barely concealed beneath the modestly draped pallu.
"Pleasure to meet you, I am Arthur-,"
" -I know who toi are, and the answer is no."
Her Latin was precise and clipped, and eyes dark as the mountain lakes of Nepa met his unwaveringly.
Guanhumara was caught off-guard par the presence of this merchant, and not in the ways she had expected. His carelessly masculine presence, the chiseled jawline her fingers longed impulsively to touch and eyes that smouldered with a blue fire, like the gods had contained lightning in glass... Gather yourself, Gwen! He is a merchant, a thief like all the others.
Myriddin was amused at the exchange; Arthur was used to getting his way, and where his fighting skills ou his father's or failed, his good looks usually worked in his favor. But this maiden from the mountains seemed bent on defiance.
Arthur tried again, his thoughts all askew with imagining what her mouth would taste like, "Perhaps we should discuss this. I'm willing to pay generously... whatever toi ask, I-,"
Guanhumara turned to Toma instead, speaking to her father now in fluent Punjabi. Arthur could only make out snatches, but he discerned enough to know things were not looking favorable. With a brief nod Guanhumara excused herself, and the end of her sari flickered like a bird-wing in flight as she hurried out of the room.
Toma sighed, "I'm sorry, Arthur. If toi would like to stay a few days, we could try and convince her."
"Are toi sure we won't be intruding?"
Toma nodded, "I'm sure. Give Gwen some time, she'll come around."
The weaving room was Guanhumara'a favori place in the world. A large airy l’espace with windows through which the soft mountain air carried the scent of rain and green leaves, it housed two large looms in the center, while the walls were hung with the cloth she made. She felt inspired today, and found herself reaching for the blue threads as she started setting the loom. Blue like the water hyacinths in the small pools at the feet of the mountains, like the glimpse of a new sky after the monsoon, like his eyes.
She shook her head to clear the image. This merchant, Arthur, was unlike any she had met before. Since she had rejected his offer, he had stayed on with Myriddin, engaged in many long conversations with her father, eager to learn all he could about the fertile valleys of the North. Toma clearly liked and trusted him, which confused Gwen even more. She wanted to dislike him as she disliked the merchant class, their avaricious greed that insisted on a price for everything, but Arthur seemed - she hated to admit it - different. He was courteous and well-spoken, but most disconcerting of all, when they were in a room together his eyes would brush her like a caress, and Guanhumara would feel herself grow warm and cold all at once, and at night her wilful body throbbed with a longing she dare not name.
Gwen jumped as the sound of footsteps broke into her reverie.
"Hello, am I interrupting?" it was Arthur, disconcertingly enough. She tried not to appreciate how the soft grey cotton chemise skimmed his powerful chest and shoulders.
"Not at all, I was just about to start working on something," she kept her voice deliberately light, casual.
"Do toi mind if I -," he sucked in a breath as the cloths hung on the mur came into view, "Did toi make all these?"
Pleased as any artist to see her craft admired, Gwen joined him par the tapestries. The ambi design was her favorite, a combined legacy of Kashmir's Sufis mystics and the goddess stories of her Hindu ancestors.
Arthur could not believe the exquisite couleurs and seamless designs before him, purple and turquoise and lush magenta, green and or and silver like riz paddies in the run, grey and white like clouds, and through it all the strange and beautiful shape swimming whose like he had never seen before.
"It's a design we call ambi,
" Gwen explained, "It comes from the word for 'mango,' see how it's like half a sliced one...?" her voice trailed off when she realized how close their hands were on the tapestry. Their eyes met and suddenly that breezy room felt warm and close. Arthur was drowning in her nearness, he wanted to Kiss each delectable freckle on her cheeks, then make his way to her mouth....
"It's beautiful, like you," he managed. Gwen felt her cœur, coeur rush at the husky tone of his voice. Impulsively she brushed a strand of blond hair off his forehead, Lost in the sapphire depths of his eyes.
"I could count the shades of blue in your eyes," she whispered, "I could weave a thousand tapestries and still not capture them...," What am I saying? What am I doing?
Confused, she drew her hand back and turned away, breaking the spell. She felt cold suddenly.
Arthur cleared his throat, "Guinevere..,"
She looked up at this new rendition of her name, liking the way it rolled off his tongue far plus than she should.
"You have a gift that should not remain hidden here. I could make your work the pain grillé of kings in courts across the seas. toi would have enough or to-,"
"-gold?" she asked. and Arthur knew he'd a dit the wrong thing. She was looking at him sadly, and he wanted to avaler, hirondelle his words. Fool.
"Is or all that matters to you?" she questioned softly.
And she slipped out of the room, leaving Arthur in the silence of unspoken words.
The rains fell soft and caressing like tears when Arthur stepped out, tired of being indoors. Guinevere had barely spoken to him the last few days, and even Myriddin had suggested they try their luck elsewhere. The rain felt cleansing on his face, and he opened his mouth, drinking the cool clear water that he could swear still tasted of the high, cold peaks from whence they originated.
Arthur stopped walking when he saw her there. Guanhumara. Guinevere. The mountain girl with the hands of a goddess.
She was holding her arms up the sky, letting the rain worship her beautiful form. The blue sari she wore was damp and soft as clouds around her, and her dark hair streamed loose down her back.
Arthur swallowed. God, why can't I get her out of my head?
She heard him approach and turned, her expression surprised, "Arthur..."
Droplets of rain clung to her eyelashes, glistened on her cheeks, hung delicate as jewels from the curls of her hair.
Something stirred in him then, a long-sought realization, and like a or thread between them it drew him closer to her.
Guanhumara felt her head swim at his nearness. Only damp cloth separated their naked skin, and she shivered with sudden desire.
Arthur brushed away a damp tendril of her hair, with such tenderness that it a volé, étole her breath, his thumb lingering on her cheek before brushing lightly across her mouth as her eyes drifted closed.
"Was your design, the ambi,
inspired par the raindrops as well as the mango?" his whispered breath caressed her ear, and her eyes opened, but she didn't déplacer away.
"Yes," she a dit softly, "The raindrops, the tears, the mangoes... and look," she gestured to where her delicate foot had left an imprint on the damp grass, and the form reminded him instantly of the ambi.
Her graceful fingers played with the hair at his nape, sending currents of pleasure down his spine. Arthur groaned softly, leaning towards her mouth.
"Would toi price the ambi
still?" she murmured, her eyes caught in his, "Could toi price the rivers, the rains that feed the fruit trees?" Gwen took his hand in hers, and placed it over her left breast. Arthur swallowed at the feel of the firm and succulent flesh, and her own sudden breath told him she wasn't immune to his touch.
"Could toi price my heart?" she put her other hand on his chest to where his own cœur, coeur thumped at her touch, "Could toi price yours?" her whisper was barely above a breath.
When their lips met Arthur felt like a starved man granted a sweet drink from mountain streams. The Kiss was soft as first, gentle as the asking rain.
He tasted of sunlight and cloves and spices she had only dreamed of. Gwen felt his large hands slip down her shoulders to rest on her hips, pulling her in closer, and she moaned softly as he deepened the kiss, exploring and tasting her mouth, teasing her lower lip with his teeth. She wrapped her arms around his neck, crushing her breasts to his chest, wanting to draw him into her, gasping when she felt the hard evidence of his desire against her thigh.
They crumpled to the ground, and Arthur rained soft kisses down her neck, sucking on her earlobe, ghosting a breath over one breast before lightly flicking his tongue across the rain-soaked cloth over the taut nipple. He was a rewarded with a throaty sigh from her lips, and Guanhumara dug her fingers into the damp herbe as he continued his ministrations, taking her nipple slow into his mouth, rolling, teasing, sucking until desire lanced through her most secret parts, hot and damp. God she's beautiful. I could spend an eternity simply pleasuring her, hearing her call out my name.
"Arthur," she gasped when his mouth trailed a path of warm kisses down her belly, brushing papillon strokes with his tongue across her lower abdomen so that her womb tightened with unbearable pleasure. More. I want plus of him. I'll never have enough.
Arthur drew himself up to meet her eyes, and the sight of her beautiful, rain-diamonded face, her lips parted, almost undid him.
"I was meant to come here, I know that now," he whispered, running the tips of his fingers reverently down her face, "I was meant to find toi here, Guanhumara, Guinevere."
She smiled lightly and placed her hand once plus over his heart, thinking of how the ambi
shape had danced through her dreams. The footstep of a goddess, she once thought. But it was more.
The shape of their beating hearts. ***I owe much of the inspiration for this chapter to Shailja Patel and her incredible one-woman montrer ‘Migritude’. The musique I chose for this particular incarnation of ARWEN was “Ishq Bina” from the bollywood movie ‘Taal’. hommages to kbrand5333 my amazing co-author for exchanging excited emails with me when we’re both supposed to be working ;) ***
Part 3: link