Sef - See-f
Msyr - Ma-sear
Malak - Mah-lek
al-Ahrs - A-har-ras
It is that guiding hand of fate that shows us the path that we are bound to take. But that same hand, in its infinite wisdom and power, never feeds those who follow it.
A young boy sat upon the crest of a hill and watched the wind shake some bushes. He was supposed to be waiting for his father to return from one of the northern cities, and he would do so attentively, but today he could not focus for some reason. It was not because he did not care for his father and it was not because he was absentminded. Today was one of the few days where the sun would not burn with bright fury, which was much appreciated by the people of his village, and so children were outside playing now instead of waiting for nightfall.
Sef did not envy those who were outside playing...but he was feeling a little sleepy.
He shook his head violently and huffed. "Boys my age should not be sleeping during the day," he scolded himself. "I am eleven now and I must stay awake." But it was very hard to stay focused today. The air was heavy with the smells of cooking, his robes were soft and warm, and he has been waiting for his father after lunchtime. So not only did the weather act against him, but so did his stomach which left a weighty feeling of lethargy and the want of sleep.
Sef never once daydreamed because he would always be playing with the other children, helping his mother with chores, aiding his father by doing little tasks, or reading the scrolls that his uncle would bring from his travels. But today was such a nice day…
He felt his eyelids fall down and he rested upon the dusty earth to relish in the sun. Somehow though, he began to hear a whisper of a woman.
"He is coming Sef," she spoke softly, "awake and greet your father."
Sef pried his eyes open and saw his father on the path to the village. He was leading his two camels, who were completely barren save for two bags, down the path. He did not look tired; he looked triumphant and victorious like a general of a great battle. Sef ran straight towards him and when he was within an arms length, his father swooped him up and held him close to his chest.
He could smell sweat and dirt, two smells that were a byproduct of a merchant's lifestyle, but he did not care. His father was home and he was safe.
"Baba! What happened on your travels?" Sef asked excitedly.
"Many great things." He chuckled while setting him down onto the path. "I met a man with three eyes who claimed he could see anything. But that was clearly a lie because I sold him fifty four arrows instead of the fifty five he asked for."
Sef laughed and took one of the camel's reins from his father. He was a wise man, a man who was well known in the village and well respected. When troubles would arise, people would come to him seeking advice and inspiration. It was common knowledge that his travels gave him many new teachings and ideas and he would often impart them to those would benefit.
He followed his father to their house and his mother rushed out to hug his father.
"My dearest!" She ran to him and cried out, "You have returned safely from your travels!"
"Of course my sweet." He laughed heartedly. "When have I not?"
His father tied the two camels to a post behind their house and Sef helped bring the goods inside. But before he could unravel the packs and ask questions about what they were, where they were from, were the people funny, and a million other questions; his mother called him to aid her in the kitchen.
He was clearly disappointed but his father saw this and said, "Do not worry, I shall tell you all about my travels soon." He laid a kiss on his head and said, "Go help your mother."
"Alright Baba," and he left for the kitchen.
The smells of meat cooking immediately overwhelmed him and his mother pointed to a pestle.
He understood and began crushing some herbs in the pestle. When all the herbs were crushed into a paste and when he assisted his mother in cutting some vegetables, his father walked in.
"Son," he said, "you are now eleven and I believe you should join me and the others for dinner instead of eating here with your mother."
It was a great honor to be seated with his father, one of the wisest men in the village, and it was rare that he would even be home to have a meal. Many times he would be gone for a month selling and trading and return only for a week before he would leave once again. The time he had with his father was precious and the extra hour or two seated next to him would be treasured.
"So do wash and change your robe tonight," he stated.
"Yes Baba," Sef replied before leaving the kitchen to find a clean robe. It was not until he was a fair distance from the house that he began to skip with joy. He was a man and now he began to feel like it.
The sun touched the Earth and cast everything red like a rod of metal that was recently withdrawn from the fire. Sef already finished bathing and was in his room putting on his good robes.
"Sayyid Ibn Altajar! You have returned I see!" Sef's ears perked up at the sudden shout. He could recognize that voice from a thousand footsteps with ease.
"Nadim!" His father cried out, "It is a pleasure to see you again!"
Nadim Sakhb was a sheep herder within the village and he was known for two things: his flock having a black sheep and his loud mouth. He was outspoken at times but he was still a good man Sef's father would remind him. Sayyid Sakhb would come visit on the first day his father would return from his travels and usually eat and drink more than his father. But Sef would never address his eating habits because it was not polite to scold visitors especially if they were your elders.
Sef went into the kitchen and grabbed the big bowl of soup that his mother would use in the occasion of guests. He ignored the biting heat and carefully walked it into the main room where Sayyid Sakhb and his father were already seated. He poured the soup into their bowls and began to walk back to the kitchen.
"Sef," his father called, "please sit with us, give your mother time to prepare the next dish."
There was a second of silence before Sef fully comprehended what his father asked him to do. He asked him to sit with him and his guests. Sef did not need another second before he placed himself at his father's right side and poured a bowl of soup for himself.
"So Sef," Sayyid Sakhb said after he tasted the soup and winced at the heat, "how old are you now?"
"I am eleven," he said proudly.
"So why do you still linger around the kitchen like a woman? Should you not be accompanying your father?"
"All sons," Sef's father interrupted, "should aid their mothers. After all, when you are dead your sister's tears will dry as time goes on, your widow's tears will cease in another's arms, but your mother will mourn you until she dies."
Sef smiled at the proverb for it was one that his mother told him and one that he told his father. He did not have to say a word to Sayyid Sakhb, his father would do so for him.
Sayyid Sakhb was struck silent for a moment, obviously to mull over the words, and nodded. "You are very wise Sayyid Ibn Altajr."
His father smiled and then asked Sef to bring out what his mother prepared. He said yes and went quickly into the kitchen.
"Are you being polite?" His mother asked eagerly.
"Yes Amma, where is the meat for Baba and Sayyid Sakhb?"
"It is resting by the fire." She pointed to the dish of freshly cooked meat. "And Sef, do not speak out of turn. Listen to them because one day you shall speak as they do." She kissed him on the forehead when she finished speaking.
"Yes Amma," and he left with the dish of cooked lamb.
Sef for the rest of the night paid good attention to his father and Sayyid Sakhb. He never knew that his father could quote the Qur'an so easily and he swore that he would be able to do the same one day. He also noticed that Sayyid Sakhb would say something foolish immediately after he would empty a goblet of wine. Either wine would make one foolish, which was unlikely because his father would sip from his own goblet every now and then, or Sayyid Sakhb was just different…
After a while, Sef began to focus more on the décor of the room rather than the conversation. He saw his father's prayer rug, which was made from a man in Constantinople. His father said that one day he would accompany him to Constantinople and they would sail to some islands in the Mediterranean Sea. His father would say that the weather was much nicer, the waters by the oceans were blue-green, and there were pirates. The pirates made his proposal sound not appetizing but his father assured him that he would have some people to fight the pirates.
Sef then focused on the incense burner that left swirls of smoke in the air. His father told him it was from Hindustan, a place in between here and Sin, and that it was a gift from a merchant there who he befriended. Sef knew that he had many friends but he never imagined the amounts of acquaintances he amassed outside the village. Whenever he traveled somewhere and retold his stories, he would always say someone's name in passing. Sometimes it would be, "the man who let him be a guest in his house," while other times it would be, "the man who made conversation with him on the roads," but mostly it would be, "the man who he traded with." Either his father was well liked or his father was well respected.
"Enough talk about the grain," Sayyid Sakhb said after downing yet another goblet of wine, "what treasures did you find on your travels?"
His father took out a small pouch from his robe and pulled out a stone. He passed it to Sayyid Sakhb who inspected it with much scrutiny.
"Jade? How did you find Jade?"
"A man was selling it and he did not have a taste for jewelry. I bought it off of him for a good price."
"Was it expensive?"
"Well he surely did not know!"
Sayyid Sakhb laughed and filled his goblet for the eighth time this evening. Sef outstretched his arm, a silent way of asking for the stone, but Sayyid Sakhb simply handed it to his father.
Sef huffed in annoyance, something he should not have done but did so anyway, and adjusted his seat. But his father smiled down upon him and handed him the stone, which he appreciated greatly.
The jade was about the size of his thumb and, when he held it close to his eyes, he saw that there was the image of a snake with teeth engraved. His father spoke of creatures like these called dragons that hid inside caves on the desert road to Sin. They were ferocious, breathed fire, and could fly!
He graciously handed it back to his father and was listening intently.
"So what is your next trip going to entail?" Sayyid Sakhb asked curiously.
"Something grand," his father said vaguely. "Something I have always wanted to do but never felt it was right until now."
"Then go on! Out with it!"
"I plan on taking my son with me."
Sef's jaw dropped. He was finally going to be part of the enterprise! He and his father were going to work together and travel together! They were going to smell the sweet perfumes, taste the coveted spices, they were going to touch silk and own bolts of the smooth fabric!
"Where do you plan on going?"
"I am not sure as of yet but rest assured I shall tell you sooner than later."
Sef was too excited to actually focus on whatever his father and Sayyid Sakhb was talking about now. He began to imagine the places he would go to, the things he would do, the people he would meet, the foods he would eat! But he was going to do it all with his father.
He snapped out of his imagination when Sayyid Sakhb said that he would be leaving. He stood up with his father and said goodbye. He then walked in a daze to his room to change and sleep. All this thinking and imagining made him hungry for rest.
But when he threw himself on the many cushions and pillows of his room, Sef's head started swimming with the fantasies he was dreaming up. He was restless, he wanted to go now and touch the ocean! He wanted to hold the pieces of gold and silver like they were petty stones. He wanted to see it all….
His father walked into his room and sat next to him.
"My son," he whispered.
"You recall that I wanted to do something but I never had the chance until now?"
"Yes, I remember at dinner. You said you wanted to travel with me, your son."
"But there is something else to that."
Sef sat up to face him as he spoke.
"I apologize for never seeing you turn into a man when you grew to the age of ten. I can never forgive myself." He saw Sef wince at the memory. "And the gift I wanted to give you, well it was not enough to show how important it is that you are a man now. So this is my gift to you." He pulled out a scroll from his robe and handed it to his son.
Sef opened it and saw a map of the world and the Silk Road traced in red ink. "What is this father?"
"This is your present." He could sense his son's confusion and continued. "I am taking you onto the Silk Road in a few days and we shall travel and trade upon it." He laid a hand on his shoulder and added, "Like father and son."
His heart exploded in joy. Never would he have imagined that he would travel the Silk Road. Never in a million years!
Well…he knew he would some day but not now! It was the reassure trove of trade, the life blood of the world, the strand that can turn the strongest of men into the wealthiest of men. Those who returned were heroes and known as such. And to think that he, a man at the age of eleven, would travel the Silk Road with his father! He was truly blessed.
"Tomorrow I shall teach you what a merchant should always bring and should never bring. And then we shall go to the city and, who knows, perhaps we shall stay a while and enjoy the urban area while we find goods to trade?"
He kissed his son on the forehead, "Does that sound good?"
"Yes," he yawned and whispered, "it does."
"Good night my son."
Sef awoke by the edge of an oasis. The tufts of grass tickled his nose and he sneezed. His sudden movement shook the palm fronds above and made the pool of sapphire water ripple gently. He knelt by the water and touched it, shivering at the coldness. He saw the nighttime stars make odd shaped constellations, ones he could not identify and gave up trying to find a scorpion or twins in the sky.
He looked around and found a shadow of a man lying down on the opposite side of the oasis and the sounds of labored breathing filled the slice of paradise. Sef wanted to help the man, perhaps offer him some water, but a voice caught his attention.
He swung his head around and saw a person in deep purple robes approaching him. Their hood made it impossible to see their face and it was too dark to see the glint of their eyes. By the time the person was in a fair distance of him, he turned around and saw a puddle of red where the shadow man was once was. He returned his attention back to the person and saw that they clasped their hands together and bowed ceremoniously. He bowed as well because it was only polite.
After a moment the hooded figure said in a feminine voice, "Hello, my name is Fate."
"Fate?" Sef repeated, the name sitting strangely upon his tongue.
"But you may use my name in your language which I believe is Msyr," she clarified.
"But that is a man's name," his nose wrinkled in confusion.
"And you are very clever," she responded.
"What is this place?"
"This is a city to which I call home." She outstretched her arms and he heard the distinct jangle of metal bracelets. "But I do not live in the city," she clarified, "I live in a large house in between this city and another one to the east."
He looked around but only saw dunes and the oasis. "This," he deadpanned while digging his sandal into the sand, "is not a city."
"And you are observant." he heard something in her voice but he could not identify it. It was sharp and pointed…and it hurt his feelings. "This is merely the space between the cities. Come," she beckoned, "we shall travel to the city."
Sef was not sure if he should follow but he felt she knew something he did not. His instincts would have told him to leave her and return home but he knew nothing of this place. He heard of tales where men were deceived and murdered, mostly by parables and sayings his mother would tell him but some from the gossipers. But for some odd reason his instincts were telling him to stay with her…
So he followed her.
They walked in silence until they crested a sand dune. Sef heard the woman sigh and he looked up.
"Do you like to listen to stories Sef?"
At first he was not sure what to say. Stories were for tiny children who still hide with their mothers in the kitchen and he was not a child any longer, he was the strong age of eleven. But his mother would still entertain him with the occasional parable and he did enjoy those just as much as those fables he would listen to when helping his mother bring water from the well. And parables were simply more mature stories right? So he nodded in affirmation.
"Good," she said, "because I have one I would like to share with you."
He looked at Msyr and waited for her to speak.
"There was once a boy who lived in a little village that was a far distance from the city. His name is not important," she added before he could ask, "but I will say that he was about your age. This boy met another boy and they traveled the lands and seas. They saw many wonders that one would only dream of. They entered golden temples, avoided a sea serpent as long as a minaret, found a city that floated on a thousand wings, and flew to an island on the sun."
After a moment of silence Sef asked, "And?"
"That is all," she said simply.
"There's nothing else to the story?"
"Well of course there is more." She chuckled. "But I do not know the rest. I believe that some stories are best told when there are mysteries laced within it. It makes the story so much more," Mysr searched for the appropriate word, "interesting."
He nodded and followed the woman as she climbed over what must have been the hundredth sand dune. And suddenly he stopped.
A city was before him. Sef never travled to the city like his father, as he was not old enough or the proper age to do so. He heard of grand tales and fascinating stories about the cities, how people rushed around and how the buildings climbed up on top of each other to grasp at the sun, but he never imagined it to be like this.
Mysr motioned him to follow her into the city and he gladly did so. Today was going to be the day he saw the city.
They approached it and his eyes widened in disbelief. He wondered if these people carved out mountains to make the walls.
"Welcome to the city," she said as she walked underneath and into the city streets.
When Sef joined her inside he had mixed feelings. On one hand he was stunned by the shear number of houses but on the other hand he was confused as to why there were no people walking about. Sure it was night time but there should be a few people such as those who would be walking home after a night of eating and drinking. There was absolutely no one walking about. There were not even guards to protect the city stationed in key areas or doing patrols! What kind of city was this?
He followed her closely despite the random turns she insisted on taking. Mysr began to pick up speed and he had to run as quickly as his little legs would allow. She must have sensed this but she refused to slow down.
Sef felt the cool air whip against his exposed flesh. He took shallow breaths and fought against the burning that was growing in his legs. His chest was on fire, his skin was sticky with sweat, and the only sound he could hear was his own footsteps. He would have lost Msyr if the moonlight did not cast such a long shadow upon her. As she rounded one final corner, he pushed himself and stopped inside a market square.
There were empty stalls lining the walls of buildings, benches free of people, fountains spouting clear and shining water. Msyr stood by a stand with piles of fruits and nuts. The person who owned such a stand should really put away their goods, lest it spoil or worse be stolen.
"Can," he huffed, "we please stop for a moment?"
Msyr looked around and agreed. She pointed to a fountain and motioned for Sef to join her. He did so only to have a drink.
"Have you ever traveled to a place and not known what the road may be like?" Msyr asked.
He finished his drink and sat next to her on the fountain. "Yes, my father brought me to his sister's home in another village. I did not know we would have to climb so many dunes that day."
"But you still pressed forward. Why?"
"Because I trusted in my father and his knowledge of the way."
She hummed in agreement and placed her hands on her lap. "Are you always so trusting?"
"No," he said confusedly.
"And why is that?"
"Because," he tapped his chin rapidly before saying, "I don't know."
Msyr sighed and began to wave at a few of the stalls. "Look around this place, memorize the location, and do not forget where you are standing right now. Something very important will occur here but only if you come to this exact place. Do you understand?"
"What will happen?"
"You will meet someone very special. Someone you were born to meet."
"What happens I don't come here? What if I pass by?"
"Here," she pointed her finger at a bench and suddenly the air began to shimmer. The stars bonded closer and closer until they formed a singular bright light that shone like the midday sun. Msyr placed her hand at her side and the star faded away. In its wake, two women and one man were sitting at the bench.
"What happened?" Sef asked in awe.
"It does not matter," she waved the question away. "What are the colors of their robes?"
"Blue," he stated.
"Then remember that detail. When you see these people sitting at the bench, you have arrived at the place you must be."
"Your path has been set and your journey begins. Good luck Sef," and slowly the color began to drain out of his vision.