Title: Trading Verse

Author: Tiamat's Child
Rating: G
Fandom: Lawrence of Arabia
Pairing: Lawrence/Ali
Disclaimer: These versions of these men are David Lean's. I'm just borrowing.
Summary: Poetry can be a very good form of entertainment.
Notes: Written in 30 minutes for Contrelamontre's Open Beginning challenge, time limit of 30 minutes. The first three stanzas of poetry are from The Ode of Tarafah, a good example of early Arabic love poetry. Yes, I know, but the parts I'm quoting are from the second half, which is about trying to forget the beauty of the beloved. The fourth stanza is from a poem by a woman named Maysun, who lived in 600's and was the wife of a caliph. He banished her to the desert for it. Not much of a punishment, really… And, finally, the poem Lawrence recites is from the Middle Ages, the work of a woman named Louise Labe, who wrote a great deal of very frank love poetry. Admittedly, she's obscure, but the poem was simply too good to pass up.

Trading Verse

When the people demand, "Who's the hero?" I suppose

myself intended, and am not sluggish, not dull of wit;

I am at her with the whip, and my she-camel quickens pace

what time the mirage of the burning stone-tract shimmers;

elegantly she steps, as a slave-girl at a party

will sway, showing her master skirts of a trailing white gown.

The soft murmur of the camp hovers about the men. It seems to Lawrence that the noise is afraid to venture out away from the light and meager warmth afforded by the fires. It would be easy to take a mental step back and think on that, draw the tangle of it out into a full thing, a waking dream of words. But there are other's words to tend to, so he lets his mind stay where it is.

I am not one that skulks fearfully among the hilltops,

but when the folk seek my succor I gladly give it;

if you look for me in the circle of the folk, you'll catch me.

Come to me when you will, I'll pour you a flowing cup,

and if you don't need it, well, do without and good luck to


He leans back against the roll of his pack, listening to the game stretch itself out, to the rhythms of the words, older than any he could summon up to speak at a glance. You mustn't drop the poems, in this game. They have to continue, the one that starts matching the one that ends end to end. This is important.

Whenever the tribe is assembled you'll come upon me

at the summit of the noble House, the oft-frequented;

my boon-companions are white as stars, and a singing-wench

comes to us in her striped gown or her saffron robe,

wide the opening of her collar, delicate her skin

to my companions' fingers, tender her nakedness.

When we say, "Let's hear from you," she advances to us

chanting fluently, her glance languid, in effortless song.

He smiles to himself at the words, so full of something warm and laughing and strangely soft. He cannot remember having listened to anything like this before. Poetry in school was spoken rigidly and guardedly, as if what lay behind the words was something to be feared. Not so here.

Lawrence turns his head and smiles at Ali, who sits beside him, listening as well. Ali is watching him. Lawrence feels fully justified in staring straight back, though he is careful to make the gaze something that is not a challenge. Ali grins.

I love the Bedouin's tent, caressed by the murmuring breeze

and standing amid boundless horizons

More than the gilded halls of marble in all their royal splendor…

I prefer a desert cavalier, generous and poor,

to a fat lout in purple living behind closed doors.

Neither of them speaks, and this is more than fine. There is nothing heavy in the lack of words. Or at least there is nothing that is uncomfortable in its weight.

Someone calls to Lawrence, cheerfully demanding a poem of his people, calling it only right that he should give something of them to this gathering. He calls back, saying that he hasn't the talent to render his poet's words in their tongue. "It's all right," Ali tells him. "That is not important."

The rest of the camp agrees. So he speaks, the words something he'd been taught only once.

Kiss me again, again, kiss me again!

Give me one of the luscious ones you have,

Give me one of the loving ones I crave:

Four hotter than burning coals shall I return.

And he understands that Ali is the only one who can hear him who knows what those words mean. He knows that Ali understands the isolation of poem just as well as he does. He knows that Ali knows his secret meaning. He knows that Ali is aware that the words are for him.

Tonight will be good.