Middle Surayan: Book III

The Desert’s First Rose

as told by Hadisha Inyotef ibn A’mai.

Harken to me, children, and hear my words. These are the stories of our people, tales of strength and honour, malice and cowardice. These are the tales of how the nine tribes survived the Suffering, and how the sands came. Yes, Shuri, of course there is a princess in this story.

Long ago, before the sands swept across the land, two great khans were blood brothers. Rashid, of the Bedine, and Muzaffar, of the Fe’din.  Each was as strong and clever as the other and the respect they shared spread to their tribes. Together, the Bedine and Fe’din were strong and prosperous but it was not to last. It came to pass that Rashid’s cousin, a woman of great beauty, was promised to Muzaffar in marriage. At first there was joyous celebration but Rashid did not drink at the feast nor did he speak in honour of the betrothal. Jealousy clouded his heart for he too desired a bride but none among the Fe’din were a match for his cousin’s beauty and worth.

Rashid’s words became angry and he challenged Muzaffar to a duel. The pair fought but neither could best the other. As the duel wore on, each became frustrated and their blows rang harder and more lethal with each exchange. Morning passed, then noon, and then dusk but still they clashed. The onlookers then began to fight amongst each other, tribe against tribe defending the honour of their Khan. For a month the battle raged, hundreds falling on each side, until Rashid and Muzaffar called a halt.

They surveyed the carnage around them and wept for what they had done. An agreement was made, witnessed by the spirits of the fallen, that forever more the Tribes of Bedine and Fe’din would remain apart. There would be no more marriage between the two, nor would they war on each other. And so the agreement between these Tribes became tradition and law, to be honoured by all righteous men.

In the years that followed Rashid married and his wife bore a son, Rafiq. Rafiq became Khan as did his son Ramad. It is to Ramad’s son, Ruwaid, that our story now turns. Ruwaid was a true prince of the Bedine, fast with a blade, deadly with a bow, a master of both horses and men, and a fearsome hunter. It was widely known that he would succeed his father, and Ramad boasted to all who listened that Ruwaid would become greatest Khan the Bedine had ever known. Ruwaid had little time for his father’s courts and duties, however. He preferred to hunt alone, spending days or weeks riding the grasslands, stalking only the most dangerous predators.

One day, while riding in unfamiliar territory on the border of Bedine lands, he happened upon a watering hole surrounded by date palms and tall, soft grasses. He was about to ride around it, intent on his hunt, when he heard singing – a woman’s voice of such perfect clarity that he thought he might be dreaming. Ruwaid tethered his horse and crept through the grass. There, singing while she bathed, was a maiden of almost impossible grace and beauty. The vision of this woman in the water took his breath away. He could not take his eyes from her, even when she turned and saw him at the water’s edge.

Now children, never before in the history of the Eight Tribes have two people fallen in love so perfectly and instantly as Ruwaid and the maiden in the water. But, even a perfect love can lead you to doom if it turns you away from family, honour and the traditions of our ancestors. For the maiden was Barah’ah, a princess of the Fe’din and the great granddaughter of Muzaffar. Their love was forbidden by law, but they were young and alone and their passions were unrestrained.

As they lay together in the soft grasses of the oasis, Ruwaid and Barah’ah pledged their devotion to each other. They knew that their families would not permit them to see each other formally and so they arranged to meet at this secluded place, each month, away from prying eyes.

And so their secret tryst continued for a year, and their love for each other deepened with every meeting. But it came to pass that each was betrothed to a suitable match from within their own people, as is only proper and right. Torn between their duty and their forbidden love, they agreed to one more meeting. Barah’ah wept in his arms, crying that she would rather cast herself to lions than be married to another. Ruwaid’s heart broke upon hearing this, for he could see no other way. Barah’ah stroked his cheek and said, “If there was a sign, a token from the lost gods, that our love is meant to be…I would abandon my family for you”. Then and there, Ruwaid vowed to not rest until he had found such a token. They bade a tearful farewell to each other and returned to their people.

True to his word, Ruwaid was tireless in his quest. His princely duties were laid aside as he scoured the grasslands from sea to mountain in search of a sign that his love was ordained by the gods themselves. He fought with cloud-demons and lions, scaled cliffs and dove to the deepest shipwrecks. He even resisted the deadly advances of the Crow-queen herself, slaying seven of her sons escaping from her palace.

Eventually, a bare moon before the wedding arranged by Ramad, he came to a hidden valley deep in the southern mountains. At the head of the valley lay a massive dam – an ancient fortress of the gods – from which spilled the head waters of the mighty Jhailal River. Yes, Jakir, the same river that runs past this bazaar. Ruwaid had found the place from which the gods had once watered the land and made it fertile.

Climbing the valley walls in search of a token for his love, Ruwaid came to the top of the dam. There, surrounded by lesser flowers, stood a perfect rose bush bearing a singular perfect blossom. A sunbeam broke through the cloudy sky causing the dew to sparkle like diamonds. Ruwaid was struck with awe. Finding this specimen of beauty in the place from which all life springs was surely a sign from the gods that his quest was complete. He carefully cut the flower from the bush, placed it in his pouch, and rode as fast as he could for the secret oasis. But remember, children, that there is a reason we no longer worship these old, departed gods. There is a reason we hold to our traditions and honour our laws, as you shall soon see.

Ruwaid rode like across the grasslands faster than the wind. He feared that the rose would wither before he could reach Barah’ah and did not notice the grasses turning brown around him, though it was still spring. He reached the oasis and called for his love, never seeing that the land around had become bare dirt in the space of barely a moon’s passing. Barah’ah was there, beside the water, although she did not see how little of the pool now remained. Ruwaid presented her with the rose and, together, they marvelled at its beauty. Dew drops still clung to perfect petals and the scent aroused their passion.

They lay together, as man and wife, while the sun burned high in the sky. Forsaking the promises they had made to their families, the duties of their stations, and the laws of their people, they did not see the oasis turn to mud and dust. They did not see the lands swept with sand, nor did they see their Tribes war on each other over precious water and pasture. They did not feel the hot winds scour their bodies, and it is said that they died in each other’s arms – hunger and thirst forgotten in their forbidden embrace. It is also said that the rose Ruwaid plucked from the dam of the gods took root in the sands that buried the lovers, becoming the first desert rose. It is the most beautiful of all flowers but a symbol of bad luck and betrayal to the Bedine and Fe’din.

So children, do any of you think it a coincidence that the waters receded and the sands came when Ruwaid took the rose? Do any of you think it a coincidence that such a terrible fate befell the land when the lovers forsook their sacred obligations?

Nor do I, Jakir, nor do I.

Now go to your homes. Honour your families, heed our traditions and abide by our laws. It is only thus that we keep ourselves safe and righteous. It is only thus that we keep the sands at bay.


One Response to “Middle Surayan: Book III”

  1. I left it a day to see if anyone else would post first…

    Great work! I always look forward to reading your posts.


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