Excerpt for Red Marks the Child, The Ankhs (Book1) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Red Marks the Child

The Ankhs: Book 1


Amira Awaad



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Except to the allusions made to ancient deities; even then, their portrayal is the product of the author’s imagination.


Copyright© 2013 Amira Awaad

All rights reserved.

Except for use in a review, no part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in print or electronic form without my permission.


Cover by Oliviaprodesign

Edited by Dr. Stephen Alfred

For my mother, Abla, who taught me how to live;

fiercely.

~Rest in His Mercy, my Sweet~



Foreword



He took everything from me – love, family, friends – even my name.

My childhood was the same as most of you. I had a mother and a father. I grew up in love and, once, felt the fire of possessing it. But no. I was not like most of you. You are human. But, I am Hathor. Learn my name well. For I was once the most powerful Djinn in this realm of Earth. Start from the beginning. Lift the veil and turn back the sands of time to when I was just a child.

Salhagaar

This desert land was exceptionally dear to me. Its warm sands resound in the drumming beats of my eye-lashes. The sultry wasteland engulfed fresh oases with water that was pure — it pulsed and it pulsated. It throbbed like the beating of a living heart — Pharaoh’s beating heart. It was the heart that beat for Kemet.

I grew up in Salhagaar. Those were days when “Daddy” was the fiery desert; and “Mommy” was the cooling Nile. Sinoueh and Seena are my actual parents. My mind drifted back to when I was just a little girl…

I don’t know how she bears to be out in the sun,” my mother said from inside the house, “the glare is blinding!”

The girl is born of the desert and the Nile, Seena, are you so surprised?” my father answered as he smiled lovingly at the woman who had captivated his soul since forever.

Daddy, Daddy, I found a pretty jasmine in the garden!” I said, running to place the white blossom in his hand.

It’s beautiful, Torri, go find me another one for your Mama,” said my father.

Just as I was about to run out the door, I paused and called back through giggles, “Daddy, stop calling me Torri. It’s not my name!”

It’s not?” asked my father. He always feigned surprise...

"She cannot keep wandering the way she does, what if she gets hurt?" said Mama.

Sinoueh turned to my mother with serenity and gentle kindness, "Can you hear yourself, Seena? She will not be hurt. Let the child play. It is her time."

"But the proph-," my mother started.

"She’ll be fine," my father interrupted more seriously, "I know why you worry, Seena, but this is her time."

I know, Sinoueh..I’m trying, it’s just…she’s only a small child,” said my mother.

Come,” my father said as he took her by the arm.

A walk in the shaded garden always soothed my worrying mother. Our family lived in a beautiful house with soaring ceilings and marble floors. The sheer curtains would dance in the towering archways, even when the barriers were closed to shield out the sun’s glare. The translucent material was lighter than air.

Sweet scented jasmines, in ivory white, lined the garden pathway leading into our home. The scented blossoms led to an open courtyard, which held a water fountain encrusted entirely with blue and yellow crystals. Blue for my mother, honey yellow ones for my father. It was the color of their eyes and carried in their stones. On thousands of nights, I watched my mother and father lock in a wondrous embrace at the edge of that spring. They danced for hours… they always danced. It was my fondest memory of them.

Inside, the great hall extended with golden pillars that carried a colorful, mosaic ceiling. The tints and dyes were never trapped in the bright mixture. My vivid imagination willed them to morph; and, in their transmutations, they told me many stories. Our house was generally large enough to host the entire village of Salhagaar, but no one ever came to visit on account of my mother’s preference for perfect privacy. And as for my parents, they only went out when the sun was low.

Even now, I wasn’t able to recall all the details of that time. Sometimes the distant memories only exist as still images in my mind – images that weren’t even static in their details, even their colors change. I did recall how trusting I was as a child. I fondly remembered how I used to walk into my neighbors’ houses, unannounced, and silently watch them bake bread or into the small shops that lined the village streets, always fascinated as each person worked at their craft.

My mother hardly approved of this lifestyle of mine. She was fiercely antisocial, but she was kind and I loved her dearly. At the age of ten, I yearned to remember that voice of hers that soothed me as a baby, for now it plagued me as a curious young girl. She relentlessly ordered me not to talk to the strangers on the streets. When I close my eyes, I can still hear her now…

It's not appropriate for a young girl such as you to be wandering into people's houses,” she said to me over and over again.

But the people of Salhagaar were so lively; and some of them told such wonderful stories! I never dreamed that one day, I would become one such story.

Sadly, though, in my childhood I was commonly disregarded by the general mass of the laboring public. They feigned blindness where I was concerned, as they shuffled through the market places — the shoe-makers, the wig-makers, the glass-blowers, the boat builders, even the shop-lifters! Whether they were working or flirting, they always seemed too busy to entertain a wandering child. At times, they would even pretend not to hear me when I spoke to them. My village wanderings followed the same routine back then…

"Good morning, Akha Bitaah," I always greeted the steel bender on my first stop.

Unlike the other laborers in Salhagaar’s vast marketplace, Bitaah wore a wig — his braids were unnatural. Most of the men in our village shaved their heads bare. It was common knowledge in all of Kemet that only noblemen wore wigs, and Bitaah was not a nobleman; but his father was.

Bitaah had moved to Salhagaar from the distant village of Menufia in the same year I was born, and the women here absolutely pined for him. People said that years ago, while he was traveling in search of work, the Persian hoard attacked his village. Awhile back, I overheard our neighbor telling some of the other village women, his sad tale. My mind recalled her words as I remembered the quiet man go about his work…

They killed his family—all of them. Mother, father, two brothers, baby sister and wife, all slaughtered by the filthy horde,” she said in an outraged tone, then promptly spat over her left shoulder to rid her mouth of the distaste left by mentioning the brute gang of murderers. Nahu was a tough old woman, with a very strong sense of justice. She told so many great stories at the women’s gatherings she hosted at her house.

He abandoned his wealth and deserted the remnants of his village,” continued Nahu while she poured tea for her guests that evening. The women lamented his loss and some even cried for his tragedy. Well, except for Luna, of course, who rolled her eyes at the sight of their malleable minds.

What made the whole incident stick firmly in my mind, was what Luna said at the end of Nahu’s recounting. She said, “So, I guess I should thank the horde.” The collective gasp of the gathering, spoke of everyone’s shock at what the distrustful woman had voiced.

She had some nerve. She was loud, and her face always boasted a wicked smirk. The most respectable people in Salhagaar avoided her at all cost. She wore shameless dresses with slits cut up to her waist The woman turned every head when she walked through the streets—but not Bitaah’s.

It had been Luna’s intent, for some time, to claim Bitaah as her own. At least, for the other women, it meant that they didn’t have to worry about their own men. Still, her blatant vulgarity never failed for shock value. She often watched Akha Bitaah as he worked, hoping to provoke him the way she did every other man on the street.

The Man with the Bleeding Heart is what the people called him when he first came to Salhagaar years ago. Bitaah came with very little, and wore the wig to honor the family of nobility he was born into.

The steel-bender’s strong arm yielded a hammer that no one else ever dreamed to lift. No, its powerful blast was fashioned for his hand alone. There are those who swore that it was made for him by another race of beings, one far stronger than ours. But I always felt that he fashioned it himself.

When he worked, the translucent beads of sweat trickled down his skin as though his body produced its own personal rainstorm. The veins in his arms and face pressed against him from the inside out every time his hammer head beat down over steel that he bent and shaped it into anything and everything.

I’d seen Bitaah speak with people, but he never looked at them. Everyone said that his eyes…well, that they were different. I never knew for sure since he didn't look at me either.

Across the street from Bitaah’s shop was always my next stop, a woman named Mirr-Ha baked bread for the locals to buy. It was the best bread in all of Kemet, and she was so beautiful. Though she loved to laugh and dance at the women’s gatherings, Mirr-Ha was actually quite shy and reserved. I grew up entirely enchanted by how different she was from everyone else.

"Hello, Sita Mirr-Ha," I would say with a smile as I ran by her arched doorway.

Her girdle had always caught my eye. It wasn't yellow, it shone more like gold. But it wasn't made of gold either, it was brighter. It dazzled as if it wanted to audibly speak and say that it was forged from the light of the great sun, itself.

However, like the others, Sita Mirr-Ha never return my greetings. She was always serenely engaged in three basic things: her baking, her sweet water, and Akha Bitaah across the street. But if I remember correctly, he didn't even look at her, not even when she brought him fresh bread.

Day by day, I lingered around their shops and watch silently. She would carefully place the bread in a fine, hand woven basket as soon as it had come out from the oven. Then, she’d cross the street to where he was. Bitaah never looked up. He simply rested his strong, hammer-yielding arm perfectly still, smile and say, “Dua Netjer en etj” Thank God for you. She never spoke to him. Though I think she wanted to. Rather, she’d modestly lay the basket beside his resting arm and leave. Though I was ignored by the villagers, at times they had the capacity to be so sweet.

Perhaps my little voice was too soft for them to hear, but I know Anaka, the neighborhood bully, always felt my foot when I purposely tripped him and ran. He was a horrible child — always cheating at sport, beating on smaller children and I even saw him stealing sugar lumps, once, from Akha Kerah's sweet stand.

Come to think of it, the only one that ever paid attention to me was a street Mau — my companion, my only friend. Everywhere I went, I was sure he would appear from behind some street corner or rooftop. Purrrr. I loved the sound it made. Mau always found me wherever I was. When we’d walk together, I’d pretended that he was a lion, and that people shied away from us because they were afraid of him.

“They don’t speak to me or even look at me, Mau. Why don’t they like me?” I confided in my companion. Mau curled up to my leg and purr.

“I love you, Mau,” I said in my little voice.

As the years passed, I accepted the silence and the status of outcast. My lonely childhood paved the way to a curious state of adolescence. I lived without a care in the world and, my goodness, my body could outrun the swiftest West Wind.

The speed held in my legs carried me as if I had wings and could fly. How many dawns had they taken me along the banks of the Nile, where I watched the Earth come alive as the first light met the ripples of the great river?

Dawn. This was the most magical time of the day. In it, there was one moment, and I had to wait for it, when in an instant, the Earth would freeze completely — raindrops suspended, ripples hanging. This was a time when, in the Earth’s poised statuette, I heard the eagles crying, the bears of the North ice waking; and the whistle of each crop leaf sway in rumination.

In this glorious music, I heard the echoes of a distant drum beating inside of a living chest. The sound captivated and soothed me. But as the moment passed, the drumming faded.



Protectors

It was regarded, in all the land, as a great honor to serve the great Pharaoh of Kemet. I used to watch the young boys play in the desert sand — they raced to see who was fastest, and wrestled to boast who was strongest. They nourished their bodies with food, fresh water, and loquat fruits. They molded the fiber of their beings fashioning themselves with strength, speed and agility. Blindfolded and barefoot, they stepped into a world where play was sensory.

“Shhh,” mouthed one of the crouching young boys, never lifting his steady gaze from the blindfolded child in the center of the human ring. One of the much younger boys couldn’t help but let out a soft giggle.

Immediately, the child in the center braced one hand on the hot sand and in a single deliberate movement, swept his leg beneath the young boy’s two feet landing him to the floor. In the blink of an eye, the blindfolded child hovered over the little one. His very breath was felt on the pinned boy’s skin.

Honor. This was important. In the honored tradition among those who trained, the victor stood up straight, removed his blindfold, and extended an arm out to lift the little one back to his feet. If this last gesture was not done, the victor’s reputation would become stained, irrevocably. He would bear the shame.

These young boys dreamed to, one day, be trained in the service of the Sekhrey — Pharaoh’s royal guard, and well-learned in the ancient arts of spiritual and physical protection.

Amongst the people of Kemet, it was the common practice of men and young boys to shave their heads. It kept the lice away. But for the children who mimicked every move of their childhood heroes, mother’s grooming blade invoked un-consenting tears.

The Sekhrey grew their hair past shoulder length — black and strong — and their backs bore the immortal mark of their initiation, Udjat, the sound eye of Horus. The mark of healing and protection painted into their skin forever. Horus was the sky; he carried the sun in one eye and the moon in the other. When the great falcon flew, Udjat, his inward eye, was all-seeing.

Pharaoh's guard was widely acknowledged by friends and foes as virtually impregnable in combat. They were free of fear, and each endowed with the strength of twenty men. These colossal warriors were taught to utilize the four gifts of the world: earth, air, fire, and water. They were the loyal and sworn protectors of the one great ruler of Kemet, Pharaoh Hetep.

The battles between the Sekhrey and Kemet's enemies were the source of wide-eyed bedtime stories and the substance of legends. One night, around a campfire, some of the boys in Salhagaar gathered to share their knowledge and admiration of the legendary protectors. I remember hiding quietly in the shadows, and listening.

“Have you heard the story of the Attack of the Northern Desert?” asked Tohan, his golden skin complementing his bright green eyes and full eyebrows.

Tonah was the son of a rich merchant in Salhagaar. His father had chosen a mate from beyond Kemet, a woman he met on his travels, no doubt. Of all the places they had visited together, she chose our village to make her home. At first, the people didn’t know what to make of her. But she was kind, strong, and respected their ways. Tonah was born and raised right here in Salhagaar.

Some boys shrugged, others sat perfectly still. As the flames of the campfire flickered, light and shadow danced over them.

“...the only thing our people know about the Men of Cold Air is that they are real. They are massive beasts that wear the skins of long haired monsters; white, black, red, and brown. More than five hundred years ago, on the sandy north shore, five Sekhrey warriors stood looking out into the sea,” said Tonah as imagination and wonder overtook the minds of his young audience. He was a marvelous story-teller.

“Do you want to know what they were looking at?” Tonah asked the circle of young boys.

“Yes!” chorused the younger ones, while the older ones nodded or sat silent with their eyes fixated on the spinning tale.

“...out in the sea, two hundred enemy ships were ready to attack the north shoreline of great Kemet. Now, as you all know, the Sekhrey only attack when their hearts beat as one. While they stood in silence, the ships were gaining. But finally, united as one, the Sekhrey stepped into the crashing waves until the water had surrounded their waists and in an instant, the sea receded!”

He looked over at the faces of his audience, and then continued, “it withdrew until all five of the Sekhrey were standing on dry land, even though they had not moved a foot in any direction… and it didn’t stop… the water kept going back and back and back until the ships were no longer on water. They were stuck on the wet seabed. And then, in an instant, the Sekhrey extended their arms towards the water and lifted it up in a giant wave to the clouds in the sky, when-”

“Yes!” interrupted another boy, nodding at the rest of them around the campfire, “on that day, in the battle of the northern desert, the water eclipsed the great Sun, itself!”

“It wasn’t a battle,” one other boy, offered, “no one fought. Right, Tonah? It can’t be a battle if no one fought.”

“You are right, Marin,” said Tonah and continued to narrate the story, “in an instant, their powerful arms came down… and so did the water.”

“Then what happed, Tonah?” asked Sanu in complete wonderment. He was one of the youngest boys.

“There were no more ships, Sanu, no sign that anyone was ever there; just desert and ocean.”

“But what about the five warriors? Did they drown?” asked the little boy who’s face showed obviously concern for the safety of his greatest heroes.

“Idiot! The Sekhrey don’t drown!” Anaka was always quick to unleash his forked tongue.

Tonah rested his arms on his knees and stared into the campfire flames.

“Do not speak to him that way, Anaka, Sanu is still sheltered. Either hold your tongue or leave this circle at once,” he ordered.

Tonah was highly regarded by his peers, not just for being a fantastic storyteller, but also because he was the eldest among them and had excellent character. In all of Kemet, any child below the age of seven was counted among the sheltered. It was believed that the purity of a child’s soul was a sacred treasure; the protection of which fell into the hands of every member of the communities. This meant many things, including that no one was to harm a child’s ears with distasteful language. A crime Anaka had just committed. They feared it would darken the child’s heart.

Anaka, knowing well that he was no match for Tonah, rolled his eyes and sat back in silence.

“Tonah, what happened to them?” asked the desperate Sanu.

Tonah looked around at the gazes of the young boys and then spoke as though summoning a distant memory, “when the water became still, five men emerged from it; tall, strong, unstoppable.”

Sanu smiled and let out a soft sigh.

“Those were the five most powerful Sekhreys in Kemet’s history,” Tonah added, “some refer to them as the Ankhs.”

“What’s that?” asked Sanu.

Ankhs? Just a name they came up with, to honor those five protecors, years and years and years ago,” said Tonah.

The name was strange to my ears. I knew many stories about the Sekhrey. I even heard my parents speak about them, like that they were chosen, gifted, and would always be here to protect Kemet. But, I had never heard of them referred to as Ankhs.



Parting

Time sleeps for no one.

The years passed and at fifteen, I am now a woman by the standards of remote Salhagaar. Younger than me, are joyful mothers nursing their young. I, though, had no interest in marriage, at least not to anyone here.

No change had transpired in my life, but I was stricken with a sudden emotional ailment. Unlike before, I felt no joy in the things I did. I didn’t want to run anymore, or stroll through the streets, or roam into houses, or watch the passersby, or play with Mau. I wished to see no one.

Apathy overtook every aspect of time. Countless days and nights were spent circling around our garden. In time, I retreated indoors staring up at the still mosaic colors of the ceilings. It wasn’t long before I slipped into a relentless state of lethargy, refusing even to come out of my chamber room.

“Torri, your mother and I are making dinner, won’t you join us?” asked my father from my chamber door. With my eyes transfixed on him, I shook my head, turned over in bed and the tears came slowly.

Within the privacy of my chamber room, I stared up at my brightly stenciled ceiling. What once felt like a huge living space seemed to close around me; suffocating me. A deathly trouble consumed the very fiber of my flesh and twisted at my insides, leaving me hollow and in pain.

Turning, I gazed in the direction of the breeze, and saw parts of the world through the slits in between each sheer blue curtain that covered the archway. I watched the sluggish fabric dance softly.

I cried as the winds grew cold and violent. They forced the sheer curtains away from the openings and cast them into powerful horizontal waves across my chamber.

It was in this that I experienced a moment of vivid awakening. Promptly, I sat up in bed and stared out; I saw the world so clearly without the sheer shadows dancing over it. For the first time in a very long time, strength returned to my heart and my legs. I knew my cure.

“She’ll not come down, Seena,” said Sinoueh, “even the jasmines in the garden wilt for her sadness.”

“It won’t last forever,” replied Seena, “she’s just tired.”

“No, Seena, a month ago she was tired, now she’s fallen ill,” said Sinoueh.

One vivid thought seemed to engulf the two concerned parents at the same time, and both quickly made their way to the solarium where Seena retrieved a small cloth bag and held it up to her husband.

“She couldn’t possibly; it hasn’t moved,” said Seena.

To the woman who had devoted her whole life to sheltering and protecting me from even the possibilities of harm, suggestions of my leaving Salhagaar were not well received. If a woman could be a Sekhrey, my mother would give new definition to “protector”. Thebes was a long way from home, and it had taken my father what seemed like half an eternity to convince my despairing mother that she would see me again.

“Don’t cry, Mama, I will be safe and I will be home again before you know it,” of course, my feeble efforts to console my dear mother were futile. But, I was not a child anymore, I was fifteen, and disregarding my own intensely rooted desires was equally as futile.

Each day that passed left me drawn to the distant land in a way that was too powerful to dismiss. In the midst of our continued arguments, I lost myself in remembering my morning ritual by the Nile. What heart is this that drums to my ear every day?

“Protection child!” my mother argued relentlessly and followed me to the great hall, “you will have none if you are alone!”

“Protection from what, Mama, desert wolves? Sand snakes? Thieves? I’ll be careful,” I was exhausted with the conversation that seemed to trap me like a fly in a cup.

My mother threw her hands into the air, “what do you want? huh? what are you looking for?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied quietly.

“So, you want to go off alone, to Thebes, in search for something that you do not know?” She was wearing me thin.

“I have no friends here. We have no family here. I feel as though my whole life is lived through a glass wall. Mama, I can see and hear everything, but I cannot connect. I want to find... more than this,” I said from the depth of my soul.

Seena looked at her husband as if to say, “we need to tell her!” but Sinoueh shook his head ever so slightly.

My mind pulled, tugged and drifted. The drumming always came from the direction of Thebes. It was a reality that turned into a dream… and finally, my dream would take shape and become real.

“There is nothing for me here,” I said.

My mother’s widened a little. She was clearly wounded by my thoughtless words. How stupid of me! How insensitive! “I mean... I love you... and you, father, it’s just that...”

“Torri,” my father, who had always babied my name, was on the verge of tears, “we understand, the world has given you nothing but riddles.”

“Yes, that’s exactly it! I just… please try to understand,” I said staring into his face.

Later the next day, I stepped onto the large boat and looked back to see my parents standing on the river bank. Excitement gushed through my veins! With the sun on my face, the cool wind in my hair; I felt alive.

“I can’t remember the last time I saw her smile like this,” Sinoueh whispered into his wife’s ear.

“She shouldn’t be away from us, Sinoueh, and you know it,” Seena replied.

“I am absolutely sure that she’ll be fine. Let her experience the world,” said Sinoueh soothingly.

Seena’s mind began to spin like a ball of locked up spiders, “...and what if she doesn’t return? What if the others find her? What about the proph-”

“Shhh... that is the beating heart of a mother that speaks and torments you so,” Sinoueh interrupted as he gazed softly into his wife’s eyes and wiped away her brimming tears, “what does the Earth say to you?”

Seena turned her striking blue eyes to the sky and then lowered her gaze to stare at the boat that carried her only daughter away, over the cool Nile.

“It says nothing,” Seena whispered. She turned away from the riverbank — bereft of her sweet child.

Sinoueh long stood staring out at the boat; and as the space between them grew wider and wider he whispered, “you cannot hear me, young one, but the answers you seek are here.”



Thebes

The boat sailed for two days, stopping occasionally to drop off passengers and pick up new ones. Along the Nile banks, I watched the farmers tend the land, and the crop leaves sway. I loved every grain of wheat and sand, every drop of river and rain. My Kemet.

Upon arrival, the noise drew me to the dock. The lively streets of Thebes were flooded with camels, horses, noblemen and women, servants, merchants, guards, and people from beyond Kemet.

Our boat pulled in alongside twenty others. I’d never seen anything like this. The vast city was unlike anything from my childhood surroundings of remote Salhagaar.

“Hurry up, throw me the rope!” yelled one of the workers from the docks. I waited for everyone else to get off the boat, so that my eyes could take in everything. I could swear I stopped blinking.

The dock felt strong beneath my feet, everything felt strong, and I was strong. In the supreme madness that surrounded me, a nobleman passed by. I knew his status by his wig and I knowingly could not stop staring at him. He was the average size of any man and wore flat, golden sandals.

My eyes traced up his form, wrapped from ankle to waist in a beautiful rust colored garment. A white and gold striped belt fastened it at the waist. I paused. The man wore no shirt! His bare shoulders carried many rows of beads and jewels, fastened in the shape of a necklace. Kohl, the thick black lines, protected his brown orbs from the brightness of the great sun. Finally, his hair — the unnatural black braids were fashioned to his ears’ length.

Instantly, my mind flashed back to Akha Bitaah in Salhagaar, only he was much bigger than this man was. Compared to most, Bitaah was certainly not of average size, and he always wore a shirt. That, and of course, Bitaah was no nobleman; not like this.

The warm air of Thebes roared with laughter, horse hooves, and clinking anklets worn around the feet of well-groomed women. Beautiful.

“What have we here?” said a curious looking man lingering in the shadows of the alleyway by the dock. I stood frozen in disbelief. Was he speaking to me?

“Are.. you.. talking to me?” I finally let out.

“I am,” he answered back as he took a few steps towards me, “seems to me like you’re a long way from home, you’re certainly not from around here.”

Something in his voice sounded dangerous.

“Yes, well, I’m not but I will be staying with my family here,” I lied, badly. The man let out a loud, guttural laugh. He made me uncomfortable and I couldn’t help but hear my mother’s pestering voice in my head argue with me. Protection, you will have none if you are alone. It didn’t sound so pestering now.

“And which family is that? I know many families here, perhaps I know yours, and perhaps we can share a glass of firron,” he said with a gaping smile.

“Am I late, Cousin?” came the voice of a spirited woman who walked up and casually took me by the arm, whispering, “walk with me, you don’t want anything to do with this vermin.” She eyed him threateningly as we crossed his path and he retreated into the shadows of the alleyway.

I had never seen anything like her! She was tall and slender and strong and agile. Her waist length braided hair was striped — black and grey. Her eyes, like almost everyone here, carried lines of thick black kohl. There was something so familiar about her, but I just could not tell what it was.

“You are new in this city,” she said matter-of –factly as we walked to her home, “some words of advice…keep to yourself.”

“Splendid, I might as well have stayed in Salhagaar,” I mumbled under my breath.

“You’re welcome to stay here with me for as long as you need,” she said kindly, but before I could turn around or thank her or ask her name, she was gone. The living space was nice. It wasn’t exactly ‘home’, but it was shelter.

Months had gone by and the city of Thebes became imprinted in my mind like the back of my hands. Numerous locals had approached me, offering hospitality. They invited me to their rural homes, but my mind echoed the tall woman’s warning — keep to yourself —and I did. On many dawns, I ran out to the Nile to listen, but I heard nothing. No eagles, no bears of the North ice, no drum.

As I’ve said before, time sleeps for no one, and it passed quickly. The great palace of Thebes became my chosen place to spend it. Just like I did in my childhood, I wandered in. I suppose the people aren’t that different from my village back home, no one minded my roaming around, and I didn’t get in their way.

The hallways, walkways, and chambers always smelled like incense and sweet perfumes. Large openings in the soaring walls served to ventilate and cool the air on even the hottest summer’s days. By day, I watched intently, as the glorious sun seeped through the branches of the lemon trees in the great courtyard.

By night, large candles and torches illuminated the gigantic hallways and walkways of the palace. For months, I ran up and down the spacious corridors, sneaking by servants bearing fruit trays just to stand in the great court and dance to the music played by the royal hnr on sistrums and lyres.

“The Great King will come home soon. I heard talk of it in the upstairs chambers,” said Zenie, the incense burner, who then brought her voice down to a hushed whisper, “the priests…”

Our victories in the East Desert were unparalleled. Kemet is blessed with its king. Zenie was an old woman with neither husband nor child. Her entire life had been spent in service of Kemet’s Pharaohs. All her days were filled with the sweet scents of frankincense and myrrh. It was saturated in her skin and the fibers of her clothes.

“The stars blaaazed over the palace on the night the great king was born, I remember..,” Zenie would tell this story whenever there was someone around to listen.

“..sixteen years ago, he ascended the throne, oh what a blessed day! What a blessed day! On that night..”

“Yes, Sita Zenie, we know.. ‘On that night a brrrright light emerged from the great River and illuminated all of Kemet’ how many times are you going to tell this tale?” said Chinar, a young chamber maid, mimicking the way Zenie spoke. Zenie raised her head proudly, not taking to heart Chinar’s tone.

“I heard that Pharaoh’s eyes can see into your heart.. that he can know your secrets without your uttering a word,” another servant, Karan, whispered with his eyes lost in a daze. He was Pharaoh’s taster.

“And what secrets do you hide from your Pharaoh, Akha Karan?” Zenie raised an eyebrow at the soft spoken servant.

“None, Sita Zenie,” said Karan, lowering his gaze. Karan had no fear of dying for the great king, this was necessary by way of his chosen profession. Ironically enough, though, he was afraid of his own shadow. He would jump at anything, even at the sight of my life-long companion, the Mau.

One night everything changed. I never really understood the events that had transpired and I certainly didn’t expect any of it. All I know for sure is that it began the moment he walked into the court, unknowingly interrupting my dance. I knew him instantly. I knew him by his heart.

“What ebony eyes as dark as the night from which I came,” I whispered under my breath; completely spellbound, “It is you!”

This was the first time I saw the great Hetep; Kemet’s Pharaoh. The simplest glance from him, in my direction, took my breath away and I gasped. Only I didn’t glance. I gazed; I stared; I burned inside!

Just by standing at the top of the stairs, his commanding presence captivated every inch of me. The Great King was indeed everything I’d heard the servants whisper. My stubborn legs refused to move! It took me moments to snap out of my charmed state and, finally, I turned and ran; barefoot, swift, and silent.

Zenie had placed large bowls of burning incense on the floors of several walkways in the palace. She was blessing the countless halls for the return of the Great King. I didn’t see the searing bowl sitting there in the center of the floor and, as fate would have it, I tripped. How reckless of me! The scorching embers spilled out all over the floor in my path.

This moment changed my life — forever. When I fell over the fiery rocks, I did not feel the burn, not even a little. Not a rip, tear, or snag in my clothes. Every muscle in my body instantly relaxed and I fell into a deep sleep. I must have fainted.



Awakening

In my slumber, I dreamed and the images melted into each other. I saw his ebony eyes; as dark as the night from which I came.., I saw char black stones that bled.., I saw a river of Fire.

When my eyes opened, they were met with a brightly stenciled ceiling, high above where I had slept that night. Did the servants find me and bring me here? Did they snitch that I have been wandering around his palace? Am I still asleep? My head turned towards the whistling of each sheer, blue curtain that surrounded the large archways in the walls.

All of a sudden it dawned on me, I knew where I was; this was my chamber room in Salhagaar, but how?

In the far corner of the room my mother was pacing nervously.

“Mama...,” I started softly.

Seena stopped and rushed over to me, “oh my sweet child,” her eyes started to tear, “how do you feel? Oh, I never should have let you go. You’ve been gone almost a year!” she outpoured with controlled concern.

“I feel very…ugh,” I answered groggily, “how did I get here? Did you come for me? How long was I asleep?”

The chamber door opened slowly and my father quietly stepped inside. He smiled at me serenely as he approached my bed. “How are you Nile daughter?” he asked gently.

“Father,” I smiled. Suddenly, I remembered the incense bowl; and how I had tripped over the fiery rocks. My hands traced over my arms and I lifted the silk covers to examine my legs. The world still gives me nothing but riddles.

My parents’ eyes met just as my mother parted her lips to speak.

“Our daughter has questions, Sinoueh,” she said.

“Of course, she does,” he replied, shifting his gaze to rest on my eyes, “but first, tell me what happened before you… woke up.”

I sighed and recounted the events of my journey briefly. I spoke to my parents about my life in Thebes and the palace and smiled brightly as I spoke about seeing the Great King. I left out a lot.

My smile faded when my memory started to blur, “..the sparks and embers flew everywhere.. but I wasn’t burned.. at all,” I stretched my arms out in front of my body and uncovered my legs to show my parents, “everything just went dark and I woke up here.”

“Did you come for me, Father? Did the Pharaoh see me? Will one of you please say something?” I pleaded.

My father paused. He stood so perfectly still that for a moment, I thought he’d stopped breathing. I watched him get up and walk towards the cool dawn air in the curtained archways. He swallowed hard and said, “no, I did not come to get you, you brought yourself here.”

What? This doesn’t make any sense...

“I can’t remember the journey," I said calmly and in denial, "if I brought myself here, I would at least remember the journey."

Turning to my mother, I pleaded in a whisper, "how did I get back here?"

Sinoueh turned to his daughter and spoke the words clearly and audibly, “by Fire.”

When I think about it, I hate that I wasn’t burned that day because it made true the realization that was to follow — I am different, oh so very different. I am 16, now, relatively.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” I asked them as I stared out across our garden.

“I suppose all things reveal themselves in the natural course,” my father answered, “to be perfectly honest though, we were not prepared for this course.”

“You were always incredibly enamored by the people in Salhagaar,” said Mama, “this is very uncommon among our kind.”

“Our kind,” I repeated her words, “we have a ‘kind’, Mama?”

My Father smiled to me, “Djinn live separately from humans and our young never show an interest in them, for some reason you did.”

My mind raced, and the questions flooded through every memory in my being searching for answers that were not there. The visual reel beamed through my brown eyes that were fixated on the ripples in the water fountain.

My father stood at my shoulder and spoke softly into my ear, "We are Djinn, Torri, created from an ancient Fire, cloaked behind a Zaffrin the humans cannot see through. We are faster, we live longer, and we transcend them with other abilities that they do not possess...," either my father's voice faded, or I had gone deaf. But Mau saw me, my companion; my cat. The man at the dock? The kind woman who let me stay in her home? The others… Djinn? All of them?

"I do not exist," I spoke calmly and quietly, "how could I be unseen? Am I cursed?" I asked aloud, and although the only ones there to hear me were my parents, I chose not to wait for their reply, "I am alive! I am here!"

"Not like them," my father's pale honey colored eyes carried the entire world.

“So, I am cursed,” I said hopelessly.

"No," my mother began, "not cursed, just different, you are decedent from Fire, not from clay. The humans cannot see any of us. Your father and I fled our home in Zinnat, beneath the Nile, not long after you were born, for good reason. One thousand three hundred years ago there was a prophecy made by an ancient priest that a marked child; female child, would be born and that she would re-unite the Ankhs," my mother said restlessly.

"The whats?" I asked, and instantly flashed back to the story I heard Tonah tell at the campfire years back, “you mean the five Sekhrey warriors?”

"Legend. The Ankhs are legend, created long before our time," my father said, "no one even knows what they look like. But the legend holds that, when brought together, they unveil the ancient river of Kararos."

"Kararos," I said, bewildered yet sarcastic, "but, of course."

"When you were born, a beautiful little girl, we feared for you," my father continued, "if ever anyone suspected that you were that marked child, Heaven knows what would have happened to all of us."

"Yes, but so what? So, I am a girl," I could hardly believe how paranoid my parents seemed to me.

"No, you are not," my mother's tears eclipsed my disbelief and it seemed like every part of her soul was breathed into her words, "you are the child that the prophecy foresaw!"

"Seena felt it the moment you were placed in her arms, she said she saw a bright light surround you-" my father's voice was careful.

"I did see a bright light!" my mother interjected, "it came from within you, child," She sat down beside me and rested a small cloth bag in her lap.

"I had my doubts, but Seena was always so sure and that's why she always feared so much for your safety. You are our daughter; our everything," my father's tears were near.

Sixteen years ago, on the day of his coronation, a bright light emerged from the river…. I recalled, now, Zenie's story. I was the bright light. I was born.

My parents spoke on and on but I have a very limited recollection of what they said. I stared at them. Twisting in me was a feeling of profound disappointment. All this time; sixteen years, they never told me anything.

“You should have told me,” I said quietly interrupting them.

“It wasn’t as easy as you think,” my mother went on to explain, "try to understand: Djinns receive their gifts only after they reach maturity. Until then, they are simply hidden behind the Zaffrin. But you, child, you built upon our gifts when you were just a baby."

"I don't understand," I said, feeling suddenly confused.

"Long ago, when we moved to Salhagaar, Sinoueh lined our garden with roses; you’d keep conjuring them into jasmines," my mother said with a smile and gestured at the walls of jasmine flowers around us, “what’s more, the Sun’s bright glare blurs a Djinn’s vision, yours is curiously unaffected.”

“I don’t remember roses in our garden. I did this?” I asked looking around the surrounding blossoms.

"We cast colors into the ceilings of our home, but you made them move and conjured up fantastical stories through them,” continued my father.

That’s when it came back to me. I was starting to remember.

"That was real?!” I was shocked, but my smile dissolved when I recalled Pharaoh, “it’s just that I have no desire to go chasing any legend.” Yes, of course, you just want to chase him. My thoughts stripped be bare.

There in my mother’s lap sat a small cloth bag and my eyes became fixated on it. It began to shake and rattle, rendering me unnerved.

"Destiny is what you will make it, until then, you must be prepared for what comes next," Seena’s voice reassured me. She put her hand over the bag and it stopped rattling.

“There’s more?” I inquired, “don’t you think this is enough?”

“Last night you traveled through Fire which, by way of the Djinn, means you’ve matured and you’re ready to receive your gifts,” he said, pausing as his eyes fell over the cloth bag, “this also means that your presence has been sensed by others and the time has come for us to go back."

“Wait, what others?” I asked alarmed.

My father paused as he made his way back inside. He turned around and answered, “The Legai.”



Ancient Ones

Our laws and customs held that my parents would now take me to Zinnat, the Great City. If the realm of Djinn had a capital, Zinnat would be it. According to them, it wasn’t the first time I go to there. According to them, I was born there.

My mother and father brought me to a place I knew. It was familiar in every drop of water and golden grain of sand. This is where my swift legs carried me on the dawn of every day to hear the Earth hold its breath for a single moment and then come to life. It was right here on the river bank where the Desert touched the Nile that my life would change forever.

“I know this place,” I said with nostalgic smiles, “I came here every day as a child to listen to the Earth.”

“It must have called to you,” said Mama.

Where you’re standing is the gateway to Zinnat, and what you were hearing you mustn’t speak of with anyone. It is a secret between you and the Nile. Each of us hear something different,” my father said to me with a smile.

My mother opened the cloth bag, reached inside to possess its contents, extended her arm out in front of her and opened her hand. The sight of the char black stones triggered an image that made my blood freeze. In my dream, the stones bled.

“Hold these in your hands, daughter,” she said.

“No,” I gasped and stepped away from her outstretched arm, "I don’t want them.”

Our eyes met and carried within each of her cool blue orbs, were trust and love. A whirlwind of conflict spun through my conscious and conscience. My parents hid so much from me. How much of my life was actually real? How much; a lie? But as I gazed steadily into her eyes, one fundamental truth eclipsed the violent storm inside. She would never harm me, and raised me better than to leave her waiting.

I sighed and stretched out my hands to receive the stones; cold, clammy, and as they lay clutched in my palms, I watched the grit and grime fade away to reveal luminous red rubies. The stones moved, they shone and shook and hovered. And when it was over, I saw that I stood at the river bank holding the most wonderful gems I had ever seen. The rich colors of the rubies were deeper than that of a gazelle's blood.

“Red!” she gasped and looked at my father who was smiling proudly.

“Is red bad?” I asked sensing uncertainty in my mother’s voice.

“Red is not bad, daughter, it’s amazing,” my father’s eyes sparkled with admiration of the stones, “allow me,” Sinoueh said with a wondrous smile. He waved his hand over the stones, and they levitated out of mine to find their place around my neck.

“How?” I asked, “Nothing is holding them together, or to me.”

“They know where they belong,” my father said smiling.

Just as the stones clung around my neck, a veil was lifted from my eyes disclosing another world, one that I could only remember from distant memories, if you can even call them that. I had glimpsed it before in the ripples of the Nile, and the serene glare of the sun. In it, I sensed the presence of a fire that I could neither see nor feel; but I sensed it.

Within moments it dawned on me, in all those years, the humans back in the streets of Salhagaar really couldn’t see me at all.

It is against the laws of the Legai: the High Order of the Djinn for our kind to be seen by the humans. By now, my parents had taught me more about what I really am.

The Legai are the ancient ones; and most powerful of Djinn. Our history says that Net and Gete, the twin brothers, along with their sister Kedja, were the oldest and most powerful of our creation; older than Iblis; himself.

Even now, I remember how the molten fire danced and swirled in the dark pupils of their eyes. I felt the warmth of their reflection in mine and wondered if my eyes, too, were ablaze.

The ancient ones, adorned with youth and vitality, were engaged in the ceremonial procession. Net and Gete were cloaked in black, they sat still as statues. Kedja, in violet, eyed me carefully as I walked amongst the others. This ceremonial procession marked our new birth. We were welcomed into Zinnat upon our self-discovery to receive our gifts and forever serve the Legai if, and when, we were called upon.

"Just smile as though this is all very exciting to you," my mother advised me.

“Sinoueh, how are you, old friend?” said a stranger’s voice nearby. He was a short and stout man. His curly grey hair framed his face and boasted his age; definitely much older than my father.

“Arturi! It has been too long,” my father answered back embracing the man. It looked like they were friends. I didn’t think my parents had any friends.

“Where have you been?” asked Arturi as he and my father walked away together.

“Who was that?” I asked my mother.

“An old friend of ours, my dear,” she answered so casually.

“You have friends?” I asked with sarcasm.

Before I knew it, many more came by, greeting my mother and asking about my father. When they looked at me, two things became very certain: none of them ever knew I existed; and they were thrown off by the red stones adorning my skin.

A daughter, Seena? That was the common immediate response. My mother tried to explain, shyly, by telling them that we lived in a very “remote” part of Kemet, and rarely travelled.

The multitude of other Djinns present to undergo their initiations clustered around me. We approached the ancient ones, and as we did, our garments morphed to take the colors of our stones.

My parents had told me about this. Some were clad in green satin cloaks, others flourished in their sheer blue dresses, yet others wore soft white cotton, but I; I was fashioned in red.

The silk was the color of a gazelle's blood and it clung to my form, snugly. One by one, we knelt before the Legai, and truly the ancient ones were magnanimous creatures; so beautiful. Their eyes were unlike any. They held Fire that swirled; gold and black, interweaving and intertwining in a vigorous dance.

“Thank you for coming,” Sinoueh spoke in a hushed voice.

“Red,” Arturi commented, eyeing me from afar.

“Yes,” Sinoueh answered admiringly, “she’s more than we ever imagined.”

“Do the others know?” Arturi asked.

“No,” Sinoueh answered more seriously, “I didn’t feel it was safe for all of us to meet here tonight.

“Then tomorrow, I will bring them to your house,” Arturi said, “we must act in haste, Sinoueh.”

“Seena and I will be waiting,” Sinoueh answered briefly, and the two men parted ways in silence.

My mother’s eyes did not leave me for a moment. I could feel them on me. I felt protected. From the corner of my eye, I saw my friend from Thebes; the tall, slender, agile woman who called me Cousin, and saved me from the creepy man she referred to as vermin. In a strange way, I missed her. We smiled to each other when our eyes met, and she nodded her head at me in recognition.

The elders touched some of us — others were spoken to. Soon, it was my turn and I felt the stares of everyone upon me as I walked softly towards them. My brown hair gained in length and darkened into black waves that cascaded down over my shoulders, bold and bare. As I proceeded, everyone in this fantastical hall fell silent.

Every inch of me was being drawn towards the elders as I ascended each of the five steps. Finally, I was there…

I knelt before them, lowering my gaze, just like I saw the others do before me.

Gete, broke the silence by audibly addressing the entire hall. He spoke in a strong, but distant voice; deep and guttural, "in over a thousand years, we haven’t welcomed a daughter home, such as this one; a child that can turn the stones, red. We have all watched you tonight. We, ourselves, eagerly anticipated this day.” his hand motioning towards his brother and sister, “We are pleased to welcome you home, child.”

The silky touch of Gete’s immortal hand bestowed a power onto me as it traced the contours of my oval carved face. As my eyes met his, I became entirely lost in the molten swirls of gold that danced inside the black pupils of his orbs; beautiful. Like a lot of things in this remarkable world, I did not know what the gift was, but I felt it!

This was the day I knelt before them; the day of my initiation. I knelt as a child, and arose; gifted. Net looked at his brother and though his lips did not move, I heard his voice in my mind, "She must never hold the key." In that moment my eyes met Kedja's and immediately fell to the ground. She stared at me, suspicious at my, then, curious expression. I should not have heard those words. But I did.

A few hours later, the festivities would cease and the excitement of this night would come to an end.

“Another,” Kedja spoke coldly, in the seclusion of their private chamber.

“Yes,” Net answered, “red.”

“Her strength is immeasurable. She still unaware, but I felt it,” said Kedja, eyeing her brothers.

“We all felt it, sister,” Net’s eyes swirled with molten fire.

“Then she is the chosen one,” said a suspicious Kedja.

“She could be,” Net spoke carefully, “if so, she will far surpass her predecessors.”

“She must never hold the key!” Kedja repeated the words of her brother.

Gete now broke his silence, “if she is the marked child of the prophecy, then the key will find its way to her.”

“Not if we get to her first,” Kedja responded, “there is too much at stake, brother.”



Awareness

I am no longer the girl that tripped little bullies in the street, or the lighthearted dancer in the royal court, I have returned to Kemet; a fully grown and very powerful Djinn.

It was only when I returned to Salhagaar, my true home, that I discovered the accurate nature of my powers. Everywhere I went, I could make my presence felt even though I was not seen. I could make Love grow in the hearts of humans and animals, where it already dwelled. I possessed the ability to persuade children to play fairly and the vendors in marketplaces to weigh their fruits with a patient conscience. I could bring out the best in people whenever I was simply in their presence. Back at my childhood home, I smiled as I walked in the garden with my parents.


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