Minor Keys No. 6
The next characters momentarily to cross the pages of Azimuth are the Spice Traders. They make me think of Fellini’s Satyricon, strange creatures that inhabit the margins of social life. Given that Azimuth is an arterial river of a book, fast flowing and dangerous enough for the intrepid adventurer on the surface but with depths to satisfy the seeker of hidden treasures, minor characters can bring jeopardy and unexpected insight in equal measure. This is how the women are introduced:
He and the girl permitted themselves to be seen at some distance. The richly coloured robes of the two caught and shimmered in the sun. They were both women as like each other as two fruit from the same branch. He tried to restrain the hope in his mind. They each rode a horse and towed a mule. The horses were wiry mountain beasts. The women themselves were tiny with facial features unlike any he had seen before; moon-like, angle eyed and with unblemished skin faintly greened by colouring powder and shaded by wide-brimmed hats. Their hands were gloved.
At this point in their own great adventure, the Magus and a small girl he has saved from a child abductor come across the spice traders selling their wares on the endless trail which runs across the great continents, east to west. The hope he feels in the extract above is that they will take the child off his hands. The women, though occupying little space in the grand design of the Azimuthtrilogy, nevertheless have a much significance in the development of the Magus’ thought about life’s purpose. They pass on to him a small fraction of the wisdom they have acquired in their ceaseless travelling.
I expect, in the fifty or so years of their lives they endured extraordinary privations, abuse as well as the degree of idolization which was usually afforded exotic travelers passing through the isolated and culturally insulated villages of that time. Born twins, within a minute of each other, they brought good fortune to their parents for a while, being heralded as having occult powers owing to their ability to speak in seamless sentences, beginning and finishing each other’s words, their telepathy and the gift they quickly developed for cosmetics. They cut hair, dyed it, painted faces for weddings and other festivals and gave advice on jewelry and other accessories. But, as so often happened to money spinners of this sort, they were abducted and made to work for the owner of a caravan train before they had reached their first blood shows. On a night when storms the like of which had never been seen brought violent rain, frogs and fish falling from the skies and a burning light that crossed the heavens to plunge into the earth close by, they took advantage of the fearful disarray to lead two frightened horses away from the chaos and into the battering darkness. Thus began their nomadic life. Befriended and protected by horse traders they travelled across great steppes, learning at first to trade by gathering plants and soils to make paints, creams, ointments and medicines. After years of journeying from east to west and back again they gained more wealth by buying and selling herbs and spices common to certain places but rare in others. They gave their bodies happily to the horse herders as payment for their peace of mind but never conceived children, having ways of preventing it, as well as ways of ensuring their bodies remained free of disease. Finally they travelled alone being older and less in demand for their bodies. The terrible acts that were perpetrated on them prior to being saved by he Magus did not break their wills. Their lives remained in constant movement with an empathic sharing of the wisdom they gained regarding people, gods and nature. It was as if this was sufficient Purpose for them. When, by mutual consent they felt that enough was enough and no further knowledge might be gained on their travels, they stepped off a cliff together, hand in hand, carrying their wisdom with them and smiling in exultation.
(Azimuth by Jack Sanger also in Kindle books at Amazon)