Chapter Twenty- Abab
A month had now passed since the Battle of the Grey Tower. The weather was growing colder now, the winter was drawing near. Ali had been staying in Marabia, helping in whatever way he could. He'd help hunt for food, collect water for the wells and moved building blocks into place with the flick of a wrist. The Palace was nearing completion and Barika was eager.
"It'll no longer be shut off from the citizens" She said to him one night, "Everybody will have the right to come here for a safe night's sleep or company".
Many were grateful for Ali's help and openly told him so. It made Ali feel good and it helped fuel his continuing generosity. Part of what made him strive to help was that it served as a distraction from his continuing worries.
One evening, he had just finished cooking a stew in Shakirah's home. He began dishing it out to the gathered people- mostly comprised of the elderly and the young. They took the bowls with a smile and drank from it eagerly.
"You have a good heart Ali!" beamed Shakirah, patting him on the face, "A very good heart! You don't need much to be a good person- just a good heart!"
Ali made sure everybody got home safely, accompanying them back to their house. Stopping by Shakirah's doorway, he bid her a good night.
"Bless you Ali!" She smiled, "Bless you!"
Ali strolled up towards the Palace, gazing up into the stars. A magnificent purpleish colour was amongst the shining jewels of the night, no clouds at all, everything was on clear display. He reached the Palace wall and knocked on the gate five times. It creaked open and he slipped inside.
"Oh hello Ali" said Mazin the Guard, "There's some visitors up at the Palace, for you I believe".
Curious, Ali passed through the Garden and jogged up the steps. Voices were speaking inside, familiar voices. He passed into the warmth and comfort of the nearly complete Palace, noticing the pile of stone building blocks in the corner, ready for the next morning.
He entered the throne room which was the room completed first. Barika was perched on a makeshift throne, dressed in a light dress, her hair pulled back. Barika was dressed for glamour, more for comfort- her face was dirty, her hair was frizzy and she had dust on her hands. Nayif, Malakah, Mehmet and Cassim were all stood in front of her, dressed in travelling robes, similar to the ones that were worn during their travels looking for the Genie Rings. Ali's stomach churned anxiously.
"Hello" He said.
They spun round and instantly were all grinning back at him. Nayif's grin however, faded quicker than the other's did. Something was on her mind, Ali could tell.
"We've got so much to tell you!" beamed Malakah, as she flung her arms around Ali in a hug.
"You do?" said Ali, uncertain of how much of it would be good news and how much of it would be bad news.
"Firstly, Taj wishes he could be here" said Malakah, "But he's very busy".
"I offered to stay behind and look after Nemebis whilst he came here" explained Cassim, after he gave Ali a hug, "But he insisted. A Sultan should stay with his city".
"Cassim's become the new Grand Advisor!" beamed Barika, coming down from the throne to join the group.
"Really?!" gasped Ali, throwing himself into a hug with Cassim, "That's excellent! I'm so happy for you!"
"That's not the only good news we have" said Mehmet, looking to Malakah, "You want to tell him?"
"Me and Mehmet are engaged!" squealed Malakah, jumping up and down with excitement.
Ali found himself in yet another group hug and exchanging congratulations.
"Where will you be having the wedding?" asked Ali.
"In Nemebis most likely" said Mehmet, his arm around Malakah's shoulders lovingly, "The garden would be a beautiful place for a wedding!"
"Wow" smiled Ali, "What wonderful news! So, you won't let the Ring be a problem?"
Malakah shook her head, "No. It shouldn't be. Being trapped within a Ring doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to live my life just like everybody else".
Ali smiled, genuinely happy for her, but in his heart there was a longing. A longing that had been there all along. But how could he possibly voice it? After all they'd been through.
"Ali, would you mind meeting me outside?" said Nayif, "I want to speak to you".
She walked from the room, with a surprising grace given her tremendous height.
"Where's Sokkorah?" asked Ali, turning back to the others.
"He left to return to the Library of the Dawn" said Cassim, "Said he had accepted that he couldn't live in the Desert Plains like a normal person".
"I suppose that's for the best.." murmured Ali, "I best be going to speak to Nayif now, I'm so happy to hear about all the good news!"
They all smiled at him as he left the room and headed outside. The Garden was stunning in the moonlit glow, and the gigantic silhouette of Nayif was prominently in the centre. She beckoned him over. An ominious feeling in his stomach, he descended the steps and headed over to her.
"Nayif, what is it?" asked Ali anxiously, "What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing's wrong!" Nayif said cheerfully, "I just wanted to take you somewhere. I know what troubles you, Ali".
She offered him a large open hand and he took it cautiously, because he would have trusted Nayif with his life.
Their walk was brisk and quiet, midnight was finally upon them. It was at it's coldest now but Ali didn't complain, the apprehension was far too consuming of his time and energy.
"Nayif..." whispered Ali.
Nayif didn't reply, she just pointed ahead. Ali knew instantly what she was pointing towards; the little village that he had called home- Abab. The little stone huts all haphazardly complied together, now tranquil and silent in the night. Desire and love came rushing back to Ali, it was unbearable. Tears dropped from his face and he sniffed.
"It's okay, Ali" said Nayif soothingly, "You're home now, you're home".
"How...how can I ever thank you for all you've done..." sobbed Ali, "You saved my life at the Grey Tower...thank you".
Nayif hugged him, seemingly being cautious not to injure his back.
"Go home, be happy, be with the ones you love" She smiled, pulling away from him.
"But I love you too. And Barika, Taj, Malakah, Cassim...all of them" sniffed Ali, wiping his face with the back of his hand, "Will I ever see you again?"
Nayif gave his hands a final squeeze, "If you want to. Don't worry, you're free to pay Barika a visit if you wish and we'll be sure to visit Abab!"
Ali smiled at her one last time and began walking towards Abab. Soon he broke out into a jog, then finally a sprint. Uncoordinated and stumbling, he raced towards his old house. He reached the door and took a breather. Glancing back towards where Nayif was, he found she was no longer there.
Ali turned to the door, wooden and lined with cracks. It was such a daunting task for him to undertake. After having fought Giant Scorpions, ventured into Dark Caves and fought in battles against Immortals and Genies, this would be the task that would scare him away.
"I couldn't be any prouder of you, Ali"
His Grand-father's words provided a warmth to sustain him from the chill. He knocked on the door three times and waited. What a dreadfully frightful adventure he had just had, but there was an even more exciting one waiting behind this door.