Liam Fani was born in the year of 572, under a dark, starry night in the middle of the rolling plains of the Arabian desert. His ancestors, like those of the Jews and the Babylonians, had been desert folks, knowing every inch of the sand dunes and the canyons of their land. They’d lived in the desert for many years, among trackless hills, but they knew how to track anything that moved and how to trace the lineage of the noble blood.
Rumors had it, as old folks had often retold, that immediately after Fani opened his eyes, he looked towards the sky, extending his hands as far as he could, as if to reach the stars. The hot, scourging desert sun had roughed his skin, but softened his heart. He used to be starving for days and would finally go hunting for gazelles, but he’d cry by his own kill. At times, he’d decide to just herd them into a corral he’d built, but their wild nature, tickling the soft part of his heart, would urge him to set them free. He’d rather choose to exchange cattle milk with some dates to eat, from the villagers nearby.
Occasionally, he’d go trotting freely on his white horse, foreseeing the scary, unknown orchards, far beyond the desert he had known. He’d be happy to meet those villagers, but the concentration of the green palm trees, dancing in the fires of heaven, always blinded his eyesight, hindering him from seeing as far as he could. And he hated it. The villagers’ land didn’t feel so open, relentlessly inviting as the barren land of the desert — a feeling that had often strangled him, suffocating his brotherly words towards those ancient villagers.
His four decades of desert life had been peacefully the same, until Burhan, the Persian, and his companions came along.
Fani had once deserted his woman for failing to bury their differences, but to turn his back again on another helpless creature, leaving her completely vulnerable to the pricking pickles of the desert, with no justifiable reasons, was a foul act, painfully chastised under his own, personal rules of the desert.
* * * * *
When Burhan gained power, he proclaimed himself to be a prophet, and built a fortress, hidden between the mounds of sands, in the middle of the desolate desert. The fortress he erected was built with the blood of the locals, whom he convinced to rule the region. They fell for his presumed truthfulness and kindness. His eloquent tongue made them kneel at his feet, furnishing before their eyes, a virtually-created heaven, full of virgins, wine and hashish.
The motto, he propagated and in which every fighter believed, was all heathens were wrong and however you do with them was justified.
His blind fighters willingly fought, sacrificing their lives, for achieving their reckoned paradise, where they’d satisfy their lust with the nymphs of heaven. Their foolish credulousness, coupled with their passion for the sheer and mere lustful desires, had helped him acquire his power over them — they were his living daggers. He manipulated those naive fighters, who were certain that obedience to him, was the key to the gate of paradise.
One day, Burhan along with his fighters set out their ruthless plan to conquer an oasis, lying in the middle of the village nearby.
* * * * *
In the village of the oasis, Merav had once had a dream of fire, burning between her legs. Her household collapsed, tumbling to the ground. She saw herself alone and no one around she knew to be found, but a group of strangers trooped around, surrounding her. She woke up petrified. Upon examining the lines of fate on her palm, she wondered about her unknown destiny.
Her frightening dream came true. On the sand dunes of the desert, she stood woe-stricken and heart-broken. She was a captive of war, stranded, not knowing where to go and what was going to happen of her. She grieved not only her brutally murdered father, but also her darling husband. They barbarously killed her kins, wiping out her community entirely. She looked back at her demolished, burning village, with tears falling down her cheeks, her mascara smudged across her smooth, white, and creamy face.
Though dismayed and devastated, she continued to spark like an elusive sea pearl, misplaced by the hands of God in the middle of the desolate desert, attracting her enemies. Her ancient beauty killed, it sent them hankering after her. They savagely argued, fighting over her. Each and every one wanted to claim her as his own. Her formerly prestigious and royal status rendered her free from them, but not from Burhan.
* * * * *
In the thirsty plains of the desert, they began betting on her, as a precious piece of land, as a deep well, full of an endless source of water.
“I found her first and she’s mine,” shouted a long bearded, wretched soldier, riding on a dark-brown horse. “So, you all stay away from her,” he went on.
“I’d get her from you for ten heads of sheep,” shouted another slim, ragamuffin soldier.
“By God’s will, I won’t give her away for fifty heads of camels,” shouted the one who found her first. “Look at her beautiful hips and hair. Her beauty surmises all I’ve seen in fifty years.”
“Kill her!” A call echoed from a wimpy soldier in the back.
“I’d give you a hundred of them if allowed for a nightstand,” said a fat soldier in the front line, with a sword embroidered with gold, in his hand.
“God forbid. She’s already christened for me. So, you stay out of it, too.”
They fought and bled, killing one another for her. They all wagered on her, save for Fani who approached her cautiously, asking about her name and that of her kins.
“I am Merav, the daughter of the assassinated sheik of the village and the wife of his assassinated deputy.” She asserted while her head was still held up high.
Upon hearing this revelation, Fani rushed to his leader, to inform him of the turmoil, preoccupying his entire army. He told him of her angelic appearance and of her royal lineage.
Fani, the only fighter questioning the truthful identity of Burhan, kept nagging his comrades with questions, “What if there were no nymphs in Heaven? What if this man weren’t the truthful, Godly-sent prophet? What if he was lying? Will you drop your weapons, abandoning the idea of going to paradise? Or will you continue to shed the blood you crave?” He wasn’t convinced nor was he lecherous enough so much as his colleagues were for the nymphs of heaven. Nevertheless, he was faithful, not to Burhan, but to the word he gave to him.
“Let me consult God on that,” Burhan said as he walked into his tent. God was made to be ready at his own discretion.
A few moments later, Burhan crawled out of his tent, wreathed in smiles. He instructed Fani to bring her to him, putting an end to the misery that engulfed his prominent army members.
* * * * *
A slim, hopeless figure, with hands bound behind her back, stood before him. Her black hair was straight, but wavy across her forehead. Her wide eyes flushed with tears, welling across the corners of her eyes. Once Burhan took a glimpse of her graceful beauty, he whispered to himself, by God, some people were born lucky; some strove to achieve luck, while others had had luck thrust upon them.
“Would you like your freedom granted?” He asked as he reiterated inquiring about her name and that of her kins. “Loss kills every pleasure in life. Only black suits me,” she said, choking with tears.
Eros danced above the clouds of his thoughts. A daffodil, waiting to bloom, stretched in the horizon of his mind. The worm in his brain began to crawl. With a brittle smile on his face, he blurted out, “I’d grant you happiness and freedom if you marry me.” “Shame on you. Between winning hearts and mending them lies a thin line called manner. Don’t you know you and your vagabonds just killed my father and my husband?” Burhan blushed as she uttered those words, totally unaware of her eloquence and potency.
But as mesmerizingly charming as she was, he couldn’t resist claiming her as his own. He flatly told his soldiers he’d marry her that same night. “Her dowry would be her granted freedom from enslavement,” he asserted. “Try applying it to your daughter before nailing it into the heart of others.” She said.
Burhan’s reality was hard to grasp. He unconsciously wished it were a dream. His comrades stood perplexed as she kept berating him, unleashing tongues of criminal prisoners behind the teeth, who if released when angry, would throw one in a cell of remorse, where one would only be freed, under the mercy of conscience.
Her circumstances were hard, but there was always hope as stars shone brighter on darker nights. She never experienced such an authoritarian desert prick in her life. She continued castigating him, till she unbridled a falcon, soaring high into the sky. She was stronger because of what she’d gone through. She was smarter because of his silly mistake. When she looked at her palm, terrified by her nightmare, she’d prayed, imploring she’d be happier, knowing the horror she’d experience. She was sure should she be free, she’d be wiser because she’d learned.
* * * * *
“My Lord, you can’t marry her tonight, for her father and husband just died,” Fani protested.
“That may not apply to captives of war, especially to those of heathen!” He snapped a justification for himself.
Aeolus enraged and furious, inside the cavernous interior of his cave, blew heavy winds, stirring a scourging hot, dusty storm that eclipsed a soaring hawk, circling the eye of the sky. Hard rocks eroded, boulders broke, harnesses pulled while horses reared and neighed. Swords swung and clanged, pounding with the howling storm. Fani whipped out his sword, thrusting it into the heart of his leader, whom he once followed, under the night disguise. He crushed his brain whose twin tumors were impossible to eradicate, one of which was the blood, manifested in the abode of mortals, while the other was the lechery for the nymphs of the abode of the just. Burhan tumbled down a cold corpse, underneath Fani’s feet. He had climbed the desert plains with many, but came down with none. Fani thought to himself who didn’t drink from the sea of knowledge would die thirsty in the desert of life. Life was a lesson taught by experience.
As Fani wiped his sword clean with a white cloth, bright clouds danced softly, blowing Zephyr’s winds. A white dove flew above Merav’s head.
Abdullah Aljumah is bilingual and bicultural. He received his Master’s degree in Linguistics from Eastern Michigan University sponsored by the Fulbright program. Some of his short stories are published by various literary reviews and journals. He writes short stories and poems revolving around hypocrisy, religion conflicts, and forced or arranged marriages.