Tangier from the Dunes, 1892, by Alexander Mann (1853-1908)
The siege and countersiege of Tangier in 1437
First thing this morning, like every morning since the Portuguese came,
Hakim stole from his hut to the newly-built palisade.
At a chink between the timbers he peered toward the hilly skyline to the south.
He sucked in a breath, whipped around and dashed back to the hut.
Kneeling beside the pallet, he hissed, "Grandfather, the hills bristle!"
The shrunken form lying there hardly moved,
just a twitch of fingers on the threadbare blanket.
Grandfather's breathing changed to a staccato rasp.
Laughter, Hakim realized.
"The vizier," the old man gasped, "has come.
Reinforcements from Fez.
Soon, soon the infidel villains must flee.
How many 'bristles' did you see?"
"To the well now. Fetch water. Fill every pot."
Grandfather wheezed and coughed.
"Every jug. Every bottle."
"Portuguese must fall back. Here. Behind their wretched palisade.
Not enough water for them all.
They won't spare any, won't share any of our own water with us. Go."
Hakim made trip after trip to the village well.
All the other villagers had fled
when the Portuguese had sailed into the Bay of Tangiers.
They'd hurried to take refuge inside
the high walls of Tangiers, beautiful city on the hill.
When the Portuguese first arrived,
they had taken over the village and the well, as a base of operations.
Hakim, who couldn't flee with the rest,
they put to work from dawn to dusk.
How horrid a fate, forced into service
to the very enemy who attacked the city he loved.
Today no one ordered Hakim to brush boots or scrub pots.
They gabbled and argued and laid battle plans.
At noon Hakim went again to the chink in the palisade.
He ran with news to the hut.
"Grandfather, thousands of horsemen!
You should see the glitter of arms, the prancing of horses!"
The invaders sortied against the vizier's host three times in three days.
After the most disastrous battle,
the Portuguese survivors, three thousand of them,
retreated to their fortified camp here on the village site.
The besiegers of Tangiers now became the besieged.
Three thousand dirty infidels.
And the village well could supply no more than one hundred thirsty men.
Hakim and his grandfather sipped at night from their secret water pots.
They laughed from the shadows when the Portuguese,
parched with thirst, made treaty and promises and exchange of prisoners.
How glad the day for Hakim and all Tangier
when the defeated invaders staggered at last
down to their outlandish square-sailed ships
and sailed away from the shining blue Bay of Tangier.
Samanya stared at the strangers trudging up the bank from the river.
"Have you ever seen anyone with a face that pale?"
she asked her big brother Bakari.
The men wore headgear with brims like flattened baskets.
Their clothes covered them from neck to toe.
"Perhaps they dwell in caves and must hide from the sun when they crawl out."
"They rowed up the river under full sun, and there are no caves downstream."
One stranger called and waved, an unseemly gesture.
"Barbarian," Bakari said with a sniff of disdain.
The other two travelers carried large packs on their backs
and gazed at all the folk of Chidzurgwe who came out to see them.
"Traders?" Samanya guessed. Bakari nodded.
Chidzurgwe's headman gave stiff greetings to the three men.
He and the strangers threw words back and forth
until they settled on a dialect partly understood by both sides.
"Ah," Bakari said.
"They know tribes closer to the coast.
They must have come from the sea, from some far country."
The headman appointed a spokesman from among Chidzurgwe's traders,
then went about his own business. So did Bakari.
Samanya and other children followed as the spokesman led the strangers
to the marketplace where mats and booths already hosted folk from near and far.
What do ghost-white foreignors have to trade?
Ghost-white bowls and jars, painted with blue designs, glinting in the sun.
Beads of every color and shape.
Skinny jars clear as water but hard as copper.
Samanya had seen ceramics and beads before,
carried by traders with honest dark skin, but not the skinny jars.
Many citizens took interest in the goods,
but the traders turned down the copper offered.
"Smooth," they kept saying. "Give us smooth."
Samanya and her friends ran to find smooth pebbles,
smooth twigs, smooth monkey pelts.
The strangers frowned. "Smooth!" they insisted.
When Samanya held out a piece of ivory, one trader grabbed her wrist.
"Ororo!" he cried, grabbing at her copper wrist bangle.
He yanked it free and pointed to the gold wire adornment. "Ouro, ouro!"
"Mine!" Samanya cried, reaching for her bangle.
The trader shoved one of the clear jars into her grasp instead.
If anything was smooth, this glass thing was. She shook her head.
Her grandmother had given her that bangle.
She thrust the bottle back, other hand open, demanding. "Mine!"
The three barbarians grabbed at wrists of women and girls,
trying to take any bracelet spangled with gold.
Squeals and screams brought the men of town, Bakari among them.
"Ouro, ouro!" the strangers cried as they were wrestled to the ground.
"Trade for ouro!"
"The fools seek gold?" Bakari scoffed as he helped tie the men.
"Why don't they say so? Can't talk straight,
and don't know which way to turn.
Coming to copper-rich Chidzurgwe
when everyone knows the gold mines are north at Masappa."
Samanya took back her gold-spangled copper bangle.
"The word," she told the ruffians,
pointing to the gold wire, "is dhahabu."
Hardkoolbome-Bosveld, by Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, 1945
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
"Bangle" (above) respins a news article
that appeared in the July 2015 issue of
Long, long ago when the San people first came to Africa's wild open spaces,
they didn't know how to live off the land.
They asked the beasts for help.
Back then, animals and people could understand each other's speech.
Otter, clever creature of the river,
taught the San people how to swim and catch fish.
Baboon, clever creature of the savanna,
taught them which wild fruits and plants to eat.
Rhino knew how to make fire --
but he was a grumpy old fellow, always in a bad mood.
He refused to help the San.
Often the humans told Rhino, "We are so cold at night,
and so fretful and fearful in the dark.
Please, won't you teach us to make fire?"
Each time, Rhino snorted through his heavy nostrils
and stormed away, shouting, "I do not know how. Go away!"
Each time Rhino lied, the horn on his nose set to itching.
Itching like mad. Itching so badly he must hunt out a tree
and rub his horn on the rough bark.
He would rub so hard he set the tree on fire.
Again and again, whenever he refused to help,
his lies triggered another bout of terrible itching,
more scratching -- and another trunk burst into flame.
He never did have a change of heart.
The smoke of countless fires made his eyesight weak.
All those trees he set afire stained Rhino's hide forever grey with the ashes.
Long, long ago when the animals lived together in a village,
there was a young ram by the name of Lightning.
He had a temper so short that any little thing would set him in a rage,
and when he raged, his temper blazed so hot
he lit fires wherever his hooves trod.
After every flare of temper,
Lightning's mother nagged him something awful.
She scolded in such a loud booming voice,
it made the other animals cringe. Her name was Thunder.
The animals gathered and debated what to do about the anger
and the fires and the nagging and the noise.
Hoping to to end the disturbance,
they ordered mother and son to move to the outskirts of the village.
Even on the outskirts, Lightning found reason to rage.
Thunder's scolding still boomed in everyone's ears.
The animals made Thunder and Lightning move into the hills.
Even there, Lightning got mad at every little thing.
Wildfires flared in the hills,
and smoke and cinders drifted over the village.
Thunder's angry clamor still rolled through the fields and the marketplace.
At last the animals decreed that the two bothersome sheep
must move further away, clear up into the sky.
Surely that would end the troubles.
But even in the sky, Lightning found reason to flare in anger,
an anger so fierce it stabbed to the ground.
Thunder still boomed a scolding voice from the heavens.
And so it goes to this very day.
Browse more fiction and nonfiction in earlier issues of Banners in the Mist!
"current events" and novel settings by year and continent