Grant What I Wish - Prologue

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Grant What I Wish

I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.

--Birches, by Robert Frost


Prologue

The Holy Land, 1194

Evening was rapidly approaching, and the muezzin called the populace to their evening prayers. All of the inhabitants of the village paused in their tasks, whether conducting trade or roasting lamb for the evening meal, to observe the holy ritual. Everyone set this moment of time aside from the daily bustle to be still and focus on the presence of Allah, everyone except for the woman seated on the ramparts looking out across the desert.

From her vantage point, she was able to gaze out upon the shifting dunes that stretched endlessly in all directions, their sands brick red in the reflection of the dying sun. It had been yet another day of merciless heat; however, as night crept in, cool winds blew bright wisps of cloud across the horizon in fantastical colors, and a sliver of crescent moon hung in the sky.

The woman sat motionless, curiously detached from the busy hubbub about her. Clothed in dark robes, her face covered by the mandeal or woman's veil, she gazed dispassionately out over the desert sands, caught up in thoughts of the past-her past.

She was neither wife nor daughter, but a guest of the family with whom she lived in this small feudal compound outside of Arsuf, southeast of Jerusalem, not far from the bloody battlefields of the Crusades. It was at this still, solitary time of day that the memories she managed to keep at bay with hard physical activity and bodily exercise came hurtling back to her.

She thought of her family, all dead now, with love and longing. She thought of her betrothed with bittersweet regret. She thought of her homeland with wistful nostalgia. Most of all, she thought of the man who had loved her beyond all reason, a man split in twain, half evil and half good, perhaps more evil than good. She always believed there was some good in him, a small spark of humanity and kindness that lay inviolate in his dark heart. He had proven her wrong more times than not, but, despite all that had happened between them, her belief persisted to this day. It was not rational-it was beyond her control. Despite his violence toward her, and the injury he had dealt to her, she still believed in him.

She had told him she did not love him. She had lied. She did love him, not with the gentle and innocent love she felt for her betrothed, who was her childhood love, but with a darker passion mixed with physical lust and longing. It had frightened her, and she pushed it down in her consciousness, denied it, and stowed it deep inside her so that no one would know-especially him, and most certainly herself.

In some strange way, she had often felt she was his other half, his döppelganger. He had told her that loving her would make him a better man, that she would wash away his sins with her pure heart. She had chosen not to do so several times. The last time, she had paid dearly.

She took a deep breath and forced these thoughts from her mind. She had moved beyond regret. Her life in the desert was simple. Living in that beautiful and stark environment tended to strip away what was extraneous or nonessential. She kept herself apart now from any kind of emotional entanglement that in the past had torn her apart physically and spiritually. She had no time for anything approximating romance or carnal love.

In the mornings, she helped with the daily tasks that were part of her lot as a member of her family. She cleaned their home, washed laundry, baked bread and roasted meat. She worked in the stables, feeding and tending the horses, camels, and goats. She carried water from the well and gathered fuel. No task was too difficult for her; she thrived on hard work. These mornings of strenuous labor made her body fit and muscled, and helped her to fall into bed at night and experience sweet, dreamless sleep.

After the mid-day meal was eaten and cleared, she practiced her fighting skills with sword, bow, and hand to hand combat with Yousef. He had taught her so much, and in the few short months she trained with him she improved in speed and skill. Her adoptive father, Ashraf, had been taken aback when she first asked his permission to train with Yousef, but she had convinced him of the necessity for such training. If she were ever to return to her home, to re-enter the treacherous landscape from whence she had come, she must have powerful weapons at her disposal. Ashraf conceded that no weapons were as useful as the body's strength and skill and the mind's cunning.

Ashraf would never have allowed a daughter of his flesh to learn such things, but the young woman he called Mawiyah was not a daughter of his flesh, although accepted into his family nonetheless. As her name implied, she was the essence of life, having stolen a march on death. She was light upon her feet, strong of limb, and quick and stealthy in her movements. Most important, she was intelligent and shrewd. He only hoped she could be deadly in her intent when the moment warranted such action, as he knew it would.

She had been quite content to live in the small compound that Ashraf and his family called home, but she recognized that she would have to return to her own home soon, when the time was propitious. Ashraf had promised to watch the alignment of the constellations so that she might leave when fortune tilted in her favor.

She had scores to settle, and wrongs to right. However, for tonight, it was enough to worship God and eat a simple meal with the family she had come to love and respect.

It was time for evening prayers. She was not of the faith, but she recognized the debt she owed to God and acted accordingly. Slipping to her knees, she gracefully salaamed so that her body folded over itself and her forehead touched the ground. She had no prayer rug, but that did not matter. Yousef had taught her to use her mind to overcome any bodily discomfort, and to assume a position of perfect stillness. It was a lesson she had learned well.

Clearing her mind, she let her thoughts center on gratitude for her life, the desert which nourished and sustained her, the health and strength of body and spirit that she regained daily, and the people who had saved her life. She was the essence of stillness in this moment, the only perceptible movement being her long, deep breaths. She fell into a waking trance, sitting upright only when she heard movement in the village about her, signaling the end of prayers.

Standing, she shook out her robes and secured her veil. Once she determined that she was presentable, she strode across the courtyard toward the house she called home, to share the evening meal. Life had been good to her; her injuries had healed, although visible and invisible scars remained. Fate had treated her more kindly than it might have, given that months earlier, her life hung in the balance because of her hasty words and one man's rage and grief at her betrayal.

©2010, kleindog, All Rights Reserved.

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