GAZELLE by DJ Tyrer

Bring me a daughter, and give her the eyes
of a gazelle, the slender neck of a springbok,
and the grace of an antelope...
Once upon a time, in the lands of the burning southern sun, there was a chieftain of a mighty tribe and he took as his wife the daughter of a chieftain as great as he, a woman who was beautiful and lovely, kind and wise. But, for all her husband found her so, there was one thing no amount of beauty and loveliness, nor kindness and wisdom could bring, and that was a child.

The chieftain’s Great Wife was barren and, every year, he would marry another woman, younger and more comely and able to bear him healthy sons and beautiful daughters. And, every year, the Great Wife’s beauty faded just a little and she became a little less lovely and bitterness took root in her heart. And, the chieftain’s wives and daughters began to sicken and die, and he was greatly pained.

One day, the Great Wife was reclining in the shade cast by the trunk of a baobab, having applied her wisdom to the gathering of ingredients for a most-potent bag of muti, one that might make her womb fertile like the veldt after the rains come.

On the plains before her, she watched timid gazelle move carefully through the long grass, the antelope run and dodge away from the lionesses that pursued them, and the springbok skip away with bounding leaps from the hungry leopard, and she saw in them the child she desired.

As she lay there, finishing the ritual that would complete the muti, she whispered a heartfelt prayer to certain ancestral spirits ordinarily shunned.

“Bring me a daughter, a perfect child who shall bring joy to me, and give her the eyes of a gazelle of rarest beauty, the slender neck of a springbok and the grace of an antelope.”

And, so it was: The Great Wife fell pregnant and, to the delight of her husband, she bore a girl and he gave his wife a belt of golden twine to celebrate. She named their daughter ‘Gazelle’, for she did indeed have the sensuous eyes of a young gazelle. And, as she grew, Gazelle’s neck grew long and slender and she learnt to walk with a delightful grace.

Now, as kind and doting a mother as the Great Wife was to her young daughter, the bitterness that had taken root within her had not been expelled with the afterbirth, but remained, festering.

Upon the Great Wife’s shoulder there always rode a bird, a grey parrot that could talk, and it was an oracle of sorts, able to answer any question she chose to put to it.

Every morning, she would ask the bird a question: “O parrot, tell me true, is there one in all these lands who has the beauty to challenge my own?”

One morning, the parrot spoke and its words were as unexpected as they were unwelcome, for it told her: “O mistress, there is one whose beauty, now, outstrips your own and you name her daughter and Gazelle.”

With a terrible cry, the Great Wife struck at the bird and it flew up into the branches of the baobab and hid from her. Tearfully, she passed the day and no words from her daughter could soothe her.

Next morning, she beckoned the parrot down and asked her question, again, and the parrot answered with the same words. Once more, she gave a terrible cry that sent it flying from her.

“Mother, whatever is wrong?” asked Gazelle.

“Nothing, dear child, nothing,” she lied.

One more time did she coax the bird down from its perch and question it.

The parrot said, “O mistress, I tell you nought but the truth when I say there is one whose beauty daily grows more and more than your own, and that is your daughter, Gazelle.”

And, though it swiftly flew out of reach, the Great Wife didn’t rage at it, but sat quietly, wringing her hands, ignoring her husband and her daughter when they came to query what ailed her.
In the late afternoon, she rose and went to the chieftain’s eldest son, who was a mighty hunter.

“How,” he asked her, “may I serve you?”

She looked at him, her features grim, and said, “It is your sister, Gazelle. It is with a terrible heaviness in my heart that I have learnt she’s a witch who means to do me, her own mother, harm.”

“No! I cannot believe it!”

“It’s true. Oh, it’s true.”

“What’s to be done?”

“Take her out into the bundu on some pretext and kill her. Leave her body for the hyenas, but bring her heart and liver and kidneys to me as proof she is dead.”

He protested, but she said, “I know it’s hard, but you are the best hunter in our tribe and you love your father and me. You’re the only one I can trust to do this thing.”

With a heavy heart, he approached his sister. “Dear Gazelle, come with me into the bundu. I have something special to show you.”

She followed him deep into the bundu on secret tracks only he knew, till they came to a series of pools that bubbled like the water in a boiling pot.

“Take a closer look,” he said, moving behind her with a knife in his hand.

But, the blade trembled as he held it and he couldn’t kill her. Instead, he fell to his knees, sobbing.

His sister turned. “Whatever is wrong?”

“Oh, it’s terrible! Your mother commanded me to bring you here, far from the kraal, and kill you.”

“Kill me? I don’t believe it – you lie!”

“I swear by our ancestors, I don’t. She says you are evil, but I know you are not. I cannot do it. But, neither can you return home – for both our sakes. Gazelle, you must flee far away and hide. Go!”

The girl turned and ran with all the speed and grace of her namesake, leaving him far behind.

He took his bow and shot and killed a gazelle and cut out its organs and carried them back to their mother.

“Here you are – gazelle’s heart, liver and kidneys.” The words weren’t, strictly, a lie.

She took the organs from him, then carried them to her secret place and made muti from them.

But, when she spoke to her parrot the next morning, she discovered the truth and, with a terrible cry, ran to her husband’s son, shrieking curses. He turned and fled, deep into the bundu where none but he knew the paths, resolving to seek his sister, leaving the Great Wife to plot her revenge.

Gazelle, meanwhile, had wandered far away, coming to a kopje surrounded by a tangle of thorns. There was a tempting cave in its side and, struggling her way through the skin-raking bushes, she made her way to it.

There were agitated cries as she approached and hisses through bared teeth as the cave’s inhabitants made themselves known: Seven baboons stepped out of the night to regard her with shining eyes.

Uncertain whether they could understand her words, Gazelle spoke anyway. “Hello. I mean you no harm – and trust you mean me none. I’m lost and in need of a place to stay.”

Although the sounds they made in reply meant nothing to her, the way their ranks parted and they ceased to hiss didseem welcoming and she went into the cave.

The Great Wife, meanwhile, had summoned a dozen tokoloshe and sent them forth, searching for Gazelle. One returned and told her where her daughter was.

Wrapping herself in a kaross and covering her head so that her face was hidden in shadow, she set out for the kopje where Gazelle was hidden.

Slowly, as if bent with age, she climbed the rocks to the cave and called out a greeting.

“Hello,” said Gazelle with a smile, as she exited the cave. “You look weary. Please, come sit down and rest. You must be hungry; can I get you something to eat?”

“Please, my dear.”

Gazelle brought out a bowl of sadza to share with her.

Scooping a little into her mouth, the Great Wife said, “Delicious. But, please, may I have a drink of water.”

While Gazelle was fetching her the drink, she scooped out some more of the sadza and hit it amongst the rocks, then sprinkled some powder from her muti pouch into the bowl and quickly mixed it in.

When Gazelle returned, her mother handed her the bowl in return for the water and watched as the girl ate. As Gazelle finished, the Great Wife rose, thanking her for the food, and hurried away.

With a sudden cry, Gazelle collapsed.

Her mother smiled to herself, satisfied, pushing the pang of guilt down where she could barely feel it.

Gazelle’s breath slipped out through her lips and she lay as still as death.

A short time later, the baboons returned and, with hoots of dismay, ran to her side and attempted to revive her. One bent and sniffed the bowl and gave a cry.

Running off, they returned with certain roots and leaves, which they chewed into a mush and pushed into her mouth, the juices running down her throat.

With a cough, Gazelle blinked her eyes open and sat up.

Her mother learnt of her failure the next morning when, once again, the parrot declared, “But, today, far from here, there is one whose beauty, still, outstrips yours. Yes, your daughter yet lives.”

She cursed and railed, then set off once more to the kopje.

Within the cave, Gazelle was singing, so she placed an ivory toothpick outside, knowing her daughter would take it.

And, sure enough, she did. But, as soon as she used it, the toothpick nicked her gum and a poison entered her and Gazelle fell lifeless to the ground.

But, once more, when the baboons returned, they knew the herbs to cure her and Gazelle revived with a gasp.

Come morning, her mother was enraged to learn she had been thwarted again.

So, she set out a third time with murder in mind.

Climbing the kopje, she revealed herself and called her daughter’s name.

“Mother, is that you?” Gazelle responded.

“It is, my dear. I’ve been searching everywhere for you.”

“I was hiding from you. My brother said you meant me harm.”

“He lied. It was he.” She held out her arms and Gazelle fell into her embrace.

As she held her daughter close, she slipped the belt of golden twine from her waist and twisted it about Gazelle’s neck, pulling it tight so she ceased to breathe.

Heart churning with a mixture of grief and exultation, the Great Wife ran from the kopje.

Her eyes blurring with tears, she didn’t see her husband’s eldest son as he approached the kopje. He ran up to the cave, where he found his sister seemingly dead upon the ground.

Raising her up, he untwisted the twine and she gasped a deep, body-shaking breath.

“Mother…” she murmured.

“I know.” He helped her up, then said, “Come.”

Accompanied by the baboons, they made their way through the bundu, back to the royal kraal.

“What is this?” asked the chieftain.

“My mother tried to kill me,” said Gazelle.

“With this.” Her brother held up the belt of golden twine.

The chieftain gasped to see the gift he once gave to his wife and refused to hear her denials.

“You are no longer welcome here. Go. You made our daughter live in the wilds like a beast. Now, it is your turn. Leave and never return. If you do, I will kill you myself. For the love I once held for you, be gone.”

And, his wife turned and fled far from the kraal and, though her husband and daughter lived happily thereafter, she never was happy again.

As for the parrot, it flew to Gazelle’s shoulder and was her friend ever after.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Winter’s Grasp (Fantasia Divinity), Tales of the Black Arts (Hazardous Press), Pagan(Zimbell House), Misunderstood (Wolfsinger), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and issues of Fantasia Divinity, Broadswords and Blasters, and BFS Horizons, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).
DJ Tyrer's website is at https://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/
Follow him on Twitter @djtyrer

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff
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