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A Valentine Fable: The Mark of Love

Arnie Greenberg

I love tall tales, urban legends and mysterious fables. I love the stories from the bible about Joshua stooping the sun and Jonah being swallowed by a whale. I suppose one miracle is just as easy to believe as another and a miracle about Valentines Day is a fun thing to think about it.

On my travels, I once found myself in Samarkand, the home of Tamerlaine, on the ancient spice route to Cathay, not far from the Afghan border. There I visited the ruins of the Mosque of Bibychanym, which, unfortunately has been destroyed over the years since Samarkand is in an earthquake zone.

That sunny morning, I met a very old man who, with the aid of my interpreter guide, told the following story.

It seems that Timur, as the ruler was then called, decided to build the most beautiful mosque known to man to offer as a wedding present to his beautiful wife, Bibychanym. There was no woman in the kingdom whose beauty could compare with Timur’s young wife. Timur, at that time, may have been the most powerful man in the world. He was born of the Mongol Barulas tribe. He spoke Turkish and the Tadzhik dialect of Persia. There are those who say he was the descendant of Genghis Khan. Certainly, he was the most feared by his enemies. The plans for the mosque were drawn up by the kingdom’s best architect, Amir Hussayn. Timor wouldn’t be able to watch the mosque grow as he was just about to leave for a lengthy expedition against India. Timur had a history of plunder and looting and death. He told Amir that Bibychanym herself would oversee the construction while he was away. This was in the mid 14th century. Building could be slow and primitive.

After a few weeks, Bibychanym came to inspect the building. Amir had never laid eyes on the beautiful woman. All he knew was that she was in charge. Timur had decreed it.

She approached the site, sensing the awesome grandeur of the plan. This would be the envy of all the people of the world. She sat near an unfinished Koran platform intricately woven with majolica designs in rich colors. A tall, handsome man dressed all in black with a gold chain of office around his waist approached and bowed.

“Amir Hussayn,” he announced, formally. “I am at your service.” Never had Amir seen so lovely a woman.

“I am here at my husband’s bidding,” she said. “I require your assurance that this mosque will be completed on time.”

“I am your servant,” the Architect said. “If it is your wish, then it shall be so.” As he said these words, Amir felt a mysterious emotion flood his brain. He almost fell with emotion.

Much relieved, Bibychanym signaled her servants and returned to her garden fortress. For a long time, Amir was frozen to the spot.

Some time later, Bibychanym decided to see how her mosque was progressing. She was horrified to discover that the workmen had been sent home and construction had stopped.

When Amir finally arrived, he spoke words Bibychanym did not want to hear. “My lady,” he began, “ I meet you here today with a heavy heart. I must tell you that I cannot go on with the work.”

Bibychanym was taken aback. “but my husband decreed it. To stop construction would be to defy his orders. You will bring on his wrath. I fear for both of us. Say it is not so.”

“I cannot, dear lady. I have been blinded by your beauty and I cannot go on. You are the rarest flower of the kingdom. I must have you.”

Bibychanym has shocked. She almost feinted. “My dear Amir Hussayn,” she pleaded, “you know that is impossible. I cannot break an oath I made to my husband. It was an oath of fidelity. With Timur’s temper, heads will roll. The mosque must be completed despite your feelings. To suggest that I be unfaithful is treason, ten times over.”

Amir bowed his head. “I have considered all this. It is of no use. I will pursue you until you are mine.”

Bibychanym left quickly. Her head was swimming. The architect, beautiful though he was, would bring ruin to himself and many others. She stayed away from the site for a week, hoping the man would come to his senses. But when she finally returned, she saw no progress.

They argued again. Finally Amir made a proposal.

“If I cannot have you,” he stated, “I must have one kiss.”

“Impossible. Never!” she exclaimed as she ran off.

That night she received a messenger. Timur had been successful and would begin his homeward journey. That might only take six months. His bride was filled with mixed emotions. She spent three sleepless nights before she went to see Amir.

“I have no choice,” she cried. “I will allow you to kiss not my lips or even my face. You may kiss the palm of my hand, which I will hold to my cheek. But then you must complete the mosque.”

Amir was surprised but delighted at the sudden turn of events. He knew very well about Timur’s jealousy and temper.

“I accept,” he shrieked. “Come. I will have my kiss now.”

Amir kissed Bibychanym’s open hand as it rested on her cheek. It was a long and fervent kiss unlike any ever given by any man. That night, when Bibychanym looked in the mirror, she saw a small red heart-shaped scar on her cheek. The scar would not wash off.

Months went by. The mosque was completed and was the pride of the kingdom. But his wife’s heart-shaped scar disturbed the ruler.

“How did you come by this scar?” he asked in anger.

Bibychanym could not lie. She told him the story. Timor was in a rage. He mounted his Arabian stallion and with saber drawn, he raced to the mosque to confront Amir. The architect, with his black robes flowing behind him, raced up the topmost staircase. Timur followed on horseback, so thorough was his rage. As he met the architect at the top of the stairs, he swung his gleaming saber. Amir jumped from the staircase and looking very much like a raven, he flew away to freedom. But Timur swung his sword so ferociously, he fell from his horse and fractured his leg. He limped for the rest of his days and came to be known at Timur-the-lame or TAMERLANE.

He stayed with his beloved Bibychanym in his fortress in Samarkand. He did, however, decree that from that day onward, no Moslem woman should walk with her face exposed to anyone but her husband. The veil decreed by Timur is called a ‘yashmak’ and is still worn by many Muslim women today.

The red heart-like scar is the mark of love. It is still a symbol today, especially on Valentine’s Day.

Note: When Timur’s body was uncovered in Samarkand’s Blue Mosque, it was discovered that the left leg of the skeleton was two inches shorter than the other. The wound never properly healed.

The Mosque of Bibychanym, while mostly destroyed, is still open to the public.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

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