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Daughters of the Moon
By Shukrkh Husain

Chapter One

There was a king and he and his wife had a daughter, a princess more beautiful than the sun, the moon and the flowers. Since she was even more beautiful than the dancing apsaras in the celestial court of Indra, the queen decided to call her Indravati. She thought if she called her Indra's daughter - then the girl would be safe from the god when she needed his help. The queen; was a clever woman and she knew that a girl so beautiful would some time in her life surely need to be saved from the vices and designs of men. When such a time came, she could call upon Indra without fear of falling out of the sky only to be tangled in the interminable locks of Shiva like the Ganges so long ago, you remember. Because Indra was a ribald and lustful god - which in its place is fine but the queen didn't want her daughter to become his prey if she needed to ask for help. So that's why she chose the name.

Indravati grew up. Her marriage was arranged to a very hand-some son of another king. He was handsome enough for her and so he was naturally beautiful enough for the fairies. A moon-like face, eyes like stars, a soft supple skin not only on his faced but his body too - and just ever so slightly downy like a peach. (He was very young and his manly hair was only just beginning to sprout, you understand. Oh! In such places, he had a surprise every time hi looked,) The princess would surely shudder with desire if the wedding chamber and would be in danger of betraying her virginal appetite without a long enough pretense of maidenly restraint and shyness. But he was a prince whose limbs were desirable enough to make any woman lose shame without shame.

The thing was that seven sisters who lived in a pipal tree had seen the prince on his way to his wedding celebrations. They were women with their feet twisted back to front, so that their heels protruded in the front, not very different to a club of like the base of a rich man's walking stick. The type with a small brass ball at the bottom, you know? And their toes splayed like an eagle's talons, stuck out at the back. But they kept these covered with their long, flowing skirts. And who would look at their feet when their faces were enticing? They made eyes at men, then pulled the corners of their mantillas between their teeth, blinking huge, hooded eyes and looking down to show fan-like lashes. In such a way too, that any man following their dropped gaze - God forgive us - would find his eyes fixed on their burgeoning breasts. They fell in love with him and wanted him for themselves - these, you know, witches - God protect us - we shouldn't say that word. They may hear us and come. Anyway, they followed the prince to his bride's palace. They were angry at first to see he was to be married but then they were calm. Why should a witch find such things daunting? They know magic and are ignorant of morals. They followed him and they waited, biding their time.

The prince and princess married with much pomp and ceremony and the musicians played for a month until their fingers were lacerated and their bones were stiff. The cooks cooked until the heat of the kitchens warmed the entire kingdom and the stomachs of every last person and even the scavengers on the rubbish piles were full to bursting. In fact beggars from other kingdoms paid visits to the piles of leftovers from the feasts and loaded up their worthy to be called a feast in its own right. the sisters watched him and they waited, biding their time. Well, finally the feasting and celebrating was over and Indravati and her prince got into their chariot and were on their way to his kingdom where at last they would pleasure their bodies in privacy.

They traveled most of the morning but as afternoon came it grew hot and they decided they would stop for a rest. That was under the same tree where the seven sisters had first seen the prince. Maybe they put the idea in his head. We can't tell. But, impatient to explore each other, the couple dismissed their attendants.

'Solitude,' the prince commanded and the couriers and servants understood and left, making private jokes about what the prince and princess would do in their solitude.

But as they turned to each other, the prince and princess were overcome by sleep. The family of sisters perched in the branches of their pipal tree knew their wait was coming to an end. Their time had nearly come. They decided to act before the prince tasted of his bride, before his fertile rain could drench her swollen thirsty lotus. For they had been devouring his limbs and his youth with their eyes and their minds for a long while, and had been patient so long, they wanted him innocent.

They devised how to get him for themselves while he was still a virgin. As the bridal couple became drowsy, the witches swooped down and carried them up to a tower they had created for the prince. They threw the princess out of the window to kill her and she, awakened by their cackling and hissing, regained consciousness in time to snatch at the branches of a nearby lemon tree and break her fall. Then she slid down to the foot of the tree and from there crept to the base of the tower where she his herself behind a pole of rocks.

Now the witches left the prince up in the top of the tower and laid him on a bed so soft it was like a cloud. And he felt all the time as of he were floating off. They danced for him with their jangling bells and looked beautiful - very beautiful, terrifyingly beautiful. And they put a spell on him so that he was always as if slightly intoxicated and so he didn't notice their feet twisted backwards, which is the mark of witch. Or that their eyes had more lust in them than an ordinary woman. even one of those wonderfully wanton women who pleasure men in the course of their ordained nightly and daily business. For the gleam of desire in their eyes comes from skill, whereas the seven sisters had it by way of their lascivious characters.

Anyway they danced for him, all but revealing secret parts of their bodies. They undulated and let their garments swirl up enough to see the swaying tree trunks but not the flowers nestling at the top, and dropped their bodice straps, but not sufficiently to expose those full, heaving breasts, even more swollen now with the lust that surged inside them, crashed above and below the navel in crazed, maddening waves of frothing desire. They tried that night - oh, how golden skin (so seductive!) weave into theirs, to entwine together inextricably pods popping to produce catkins, penetrating into apertures and cavities, saturating them. Fluids mingling, from flower and from fruit, until he was drained, empty and temporarily exhausted and they replete.

And so they planned to use him feeding of the fruit sucking its juices with body and with tongue, until he wilted and eventually withered away forever. Every day they would bring him foods sp0iked with potent aphrodisiacs like ground tiger's tooth, herbal remedies and menstrual blood. They would leave it there all night, but the prince never touched the food and each morning before departing, they would throw it away., Af4er all, if the food were to take effect while they were away, then the juices that engorged his loin might be disgorged elsewhere. So they threw the food out the window.

The food would fall a long way down to where the princess was sitting and she would force a few morsels into her mouth, enough to survive on, no more And each morning when the seven sisters flew away in their tree, she would climb the lemon tree and enter the prince's tower and tend him and speak with him stroking his brow and begging him to wake up. But of course he could not. Naturally. And the princess understandably became angrier and angrier until finally she decided she could not just sit and wait. 'I have to do something,' she thought

And she did.

She waited for the witches to leave her husband's chamber the next day. And when they came to their tree she was standing below, clutching its roots, and she held on fast as the witches cast their spells. they took some strands of hair, they tied knots in it and then they blew on them. muttering and mumbling, their lips moving ferociously as they muttered faster and faster, louder and louder until suddenly the tree took off and the princess in it. She flew, watching the jungles and deserts rivers and mountain -lands so high and so deserted that there was no sign of Adam or his progeny. She saw a lot pass beneath her until they came to a semicircle of mountains and there the witches' tree hovered a little before landing. The princess realized she had come to the land called Koh Qaf, the Land of the Fairies, and it was ruled by Indra, the King of Fairies. Her mother and her maids had told her stories about this place and its inhabitants.

The princess leapt off the tree and mingled with the fairy people. They were very beautiful but that was no problem for her because she was even more beautiful, in spite of the fact they were made from fire and air while she was made only of clay and water. But it didn't matter. She was so beautiful , they didn't notice a difference. The princess asked passer's by where the king's court was and made her way to it. When she arrived she saw the seven sisters dancing there for the king. They danced with such grace and beauty that even the princess was enchanted and would feel her body begin to be roused and allowed herself a moment of doubt about her husband's chastity - wondering whether he sell had his virginity. Then she pulled herself to her full and majestic stature.

'Raja Indra!' she said in an imperious tone.

The king looked up, amazed that anyone should have interrupted his pleasure. And in such a daring tone.

'Who are you?' he demanded, his eyes seeking out the sound. Then he saw her and felt the juices already so near the surface with the sensuality of the sisters' dance, and contained only because of his splendid brocaded garments. He silently reproached himself for losing the fluid to his cloths and not to one of the hundreds of divine, blooming flowers that waited for him.

The woman who had spoken was indeed ravishing and as she saw his eyes fill up with lust and design, she said loudly, 'I am Indravati.'

The king sank back into his throne reduced, limp. Her name meant daughter of Indra; he could not even woo or court her, much less mate with her - his daughter.

"What do you want?' he asked, and his voice had lost its thundering quality.

'These women who dance for you, Lord,' said Indravati. 'They have enchanted my bridegroom and imprisoned him in a tower. I want him back.'

The king hesitated.

'They are exquisite women,' he ventured, unwilling to deprive the beautiful dancers of their sexual prey. 'If they are skilled enough to enchant him then...'

'They are chureyls, Lord!' Indreavati announced.

The sisters stopped dancing now and clustered together, crouching in an off manner, their eyeballs rolling and sliding, their tongues flickering, their breath hissing strangely.

'Lift your skirts!' demanded the king.

'No! Not that Lord!' shrieked the sisters. 'Not that!'

But the king insisted, and when the sisters raised their hems to their ankles, they revealed their sinister feet, you know, like a rich person's walking stick with a ball below the stub, and splayed talon like toes poking out at the back.

Indra banished the sisters from his kingdom to their tree and the spell broke. Indravati saw her husband standing before her beneath the tree with his attendants and they made their way back to his kingdom where everyone had become very anxious. They had waited so long. I must have been at least a month or two.

At last the bridal couple enjoyed the pleasures of the bridal chamber and the princess could behave in an abandoned way and enjoy the sensual pleasures the prince offered because it was she who had saved his life and his chastity and had no need of modesty or innocence to prove her love and loyalty.

The sisters are still there, in the pipal tree. They look like crows, mostly. And sometimes they move to other pipal trees. But they cannot die until they find an initiate to whom they can hand down the profane secret formula of words through which the chureyl passes on her powers.

© Shukrkh Husain

Faber and Faber

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