A Taste of Honey

By: Kai Ashante Wilson

For Anna S. Thank you for opening my eyes to new dimensions of thought, feeling, and art.

Part One

The little dark songbirds will come again;

though not exactly those that paused in flight,

captivated by your beauty and my happiness,

and learned both our names—those

shall never come again.

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

Backlit in the bright doorway, a silhouette shouted into the nighttime street: “Hey beautiful,” and the foreign soldier called again. “Hey!”

Aqib glanced over his shoulder. A man should glimpse, shouldn’t he, when some lovely woman is walking just behind? But no one followed nearby on the boulevard.

“No—” Resplendent in his breastplate, the Daluçan soldier walked out into the dappled moonlight under the border trees. “—You, man. So beautiful!”

Startled, Aqib laughed. Girls of marriageable age, and their aunty-brokers, often told him so these days, but never yet a man. Far more than either his sister or brother, Aqib resembled their mother, closely reprising her exotic features. Always-Walking-People from the north tended to smallness of frame and stature—and from them his aquiline nose, and a glossy excess of hair no scissors had ever yet checked. Freed just this morning from braids, the heavy tangle of it billowed around his head like ram’s wool.

“Vale, Dalucianus,” he said, hailing the soldier with words from beyond the sea, and then strode on with a wave. But the soldier called back, “No, wait up!” so Aqib halted in the road, the cat beside him, crouching on her haunches while the soldier approached.

For a full season, the king’s heralds had cried through the City’s streets just how all Olorumi, whether of the Blood or salt of the earth, were to treat with the embassy from Daluz once the foreigners arrived: rendering the Daluçans every honor, and offending none of them, on any account. Aqib had heard these things, of course, from his own father: “I know you shall be gracious at the fêtes, my boy, always warm and forthcoming; for I do not doubt that you will be called upon to give some performance for them. And to any Daluçan you meet in passing, extend the utmost courtesy, that they should know only comfort, only welcome, here in Great Olorum. Have I spoken clearly, Aqib-sa?”

“Oh, you have, Papa,” Aqib had said. “Yes, Master Sadiqi!”

The soldier met him eye to eye. So, a man of only middling height; but he wasn’t slightly built, nor with a bird’s bones. The Daluçan was broad-shouldered and stout-muscled as Aqib’s own brother, and male cousins: warriors all. And when the soldier emerged from leaf-shadows under the bordering trees, into the clarity mid-boulevard, the features of his face showed unweathered and young. Like the lyric, his head was “a night without stars,” which was to say, without a single pale strand compromising the darkness of his hair. Aqib guessed that he and this soldier were of an age, more or less: past a half-man’s initiation at fifteen years old, not yet come to a full-man’s at twenty-five.

“Servus, pulchre! I’m—” Then the soldier saw, properly, the animal crouched beside Aqib. He jumped back with a yelp. “Whoa, that ain’t no dog!”

“No.” Aqib patted the cat’s head. She leaned against him, pressing her fuzzy skull to his hand. “She’s the favorite cat of the prince, who is Blessèd among Olorumi,” said Aqib. All day she’d run hard, and taken down two antelope, and gorged herself. Now she was in drowsy sweet temper. “Her name is Sabah.”

“I thought that was a big dog.” The soldier drew near again. “So, they just let you walk free around the City with your long skinny lion?”

“Cheetah,” Aqib said; “and she belongs to the Blest, not to me. It’s my responsibility to take her down to the Royal Park to run and hunt when the prince is too much occupied. But there’s no cause for worry, believe me. Sabah’s used to people. I sat right beside her dam, the morning Sabah came to light in the Royal Menagerie. I know she will not hurt you.”

“Not ’less you sic her on me,” the soldier said insistently. “I’d be shit outta luck then, if you said, ‘Go on, girl. Get that soldier-man right there. Eat him up!’”