The Broken Doll: Chapters Three and Four.

by | Jun 29, 2023 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Soraya’s cheek was pushed against the rough bark of the vast tree.

Chapter Three

Shahid stood on the balcony of the Denjan home, where he could see events unfold below, as well as observe the arrival of the visitor’s caravan. He looked down at the base of the giant cypress tree, the focus of the occasion. There was his young student in her place with the others. He closed his eyes, momentarily, and joined her.

***

Soraya’s cheek was pushed against the rough bark of the vast tree. With her arms stretched at full length, she could feel the grip of the girls on either side of her, pulling her closer. There were fourteen in all, hand in hand circumventing the trunk of the sacred cypress.

As the sharp edges of the tree’s skin cut into her own soft flesh, she remembered the conversations between her elders. How the Caliph could not travel to view the tree, had demanded that it be brought to him and that he had delegated the regional Governor Tahir ibn Abdallah the task. The whispered tones spoke of the Governor’s impending visit to be accompanied by hundreds of camels. Recalling the tears of the women and the serious expressions of their menfolk, her parents included; Soraya, closed her eyes, squeezing tears of pain and confusion onto her cheeks and the ill-fated tree. Abruptly, there was a call from the crowd, that of her brother.

“They’re coming!”

Tension gripped the young girl and she, along with her fellow participants tightened their hold. A jab of pain indicated that her skin had succumbed to the pressure and she felt the warm blood mix with her stinging tears. Her resolve was strengthened by the trauma and she pushed harder, biting her lip to dull the pain. Wails erupted from the crowd accompanied by low chants from the male members of the throng.

Then, just as the sensations around her were sure to overcome the child, Soraya felt a change overcoming her. The pain subsided and the hard surface softened and yielded to the pressure giving a feeling of entering the tree. Opening her eyes, she was met with a yellow light comparable to staring directly into the sun. This visual sensation was accompanied by a soft sound, akin to the wind through the branches of the Cypress. Deep within the rustling came a female voice, calling her name, “Soraya, don’t be afraid, this is my fate and you will know yours soon. Some day we will be one, you and I. Have faith and you will witness judgment day. Your journey is just beginning. For me, one journey will end today followed by another which will be incomplete. It is for you to complete both of our journeys.”

Suddenly, the crowd was silent, seemingly sensing something. Sure enough, the earth began to move around the giant tree forming ripples in the solid ground as if had just become liquid. The young women were thrown from the trunk of the tree, which seemed to have taken a huge breath. The tremor was momentary and halted within a minute. Soraya stood up and immediately began to help her fellow worshippers to their feet. As she did so, she noticed the deep cuts in their blood-smeared faces. Raising her hands to her own cheeks, she felt nothing. No pain, no cuts, and no blood. Her cheeks were smooth and undamaged, despite the sensations she had experienced and the condition of her friends.

***

Shielding his eyes, Shahid picked out the young man in the crowd, at the same time catching the pall of dust in the distance. Pressing his fingers harder against his brow, he allowed his consciousness to join the boy.

***

“They’re coming!” called Riad Denjan, peering into the eastern horizon. The glare stung his eyes but he wanted to be the first to see them from the direction of Herat. He squinted at the decapitated heads of the first camels which hovered in the heat haze like ducks on a lake. Then, gradually, as the dots converged with the emerging bodies of the approaching dromedaries, the young man barked out his announcement. By the time the multitude had followed Riad’s gaze, the approaching caravan was distinct, surrounded by a yellow cloud of dust thrown up by the thousands of giant feet.

The pendants of the Governorate of Khorasan were clearly visible, rocking side to side on the sedately moving lead animals, followed by the carriage of the Governor himself. The assembled people heaved a simultaneous groan followed by murmurs of anticipation as the cavalcade drew nearer.

Then silence, as if an invisible command had bid it. Not even the desert wind through the tree’s branches dared utter a sound. This momentary stillness was followed by pandemonium as, without warning, the ground erupted under their feet. Riad grabbed his younger sister Shaheen and pulled her to the undulating earth. Turning towards the giant cypress he saw his older sister tossed to the ground along with the others. It was with relief that he watched her recover immediately and begin to pick her way through the screaming gaggle of girls, comforting them as she did so. Amongst the chaos, a feeling of pride struck the young man as he hugged one sibling while regarding the other. As suddenly as it had arrived, the quake departed leaving the gathering doubting that it had ever happened.

***

Below him, Shahid sensed Hussein in his room. His master had left him on bad terms and he could feel his anguish. It was tearing both men apart, in different ways. He closed his eyes and connected with the tormented man.

***

Hussein Denjan paced the ground impatiently, he enclosed his chin in one hand and drew it down, repeating his habit of pulling on his beard. The other formed a clenched fist behind his back. He was dreading the visit of the Governor and the impending fate of the sacred tree. Everything in his power had been done to avoid the tree’s fate. Offering money to the Governor, money that had been collected from the whole community of Kashmar, had proved fruitless.

He too felt the tremor from the solid enclosure of the house. Several objects toppled over and a picture was dislodged from the wall. Hussein ran to the window to witness the chaos the incident had caused. His eyes were then drawn to the cloud on the horizon and his stomach churned as he slumped into the chair. In a final act of submission, Hussein pressed head against the window frame.

Chapter Four

Several hours later, the ceremony was over and the celebration turned to trepidation as the caravan approached the town.

The Governor’s carriage pulled up at the portico of the elegant Hall of Zoroaster, where Shahid was waiting. The Governor alighted the carriage accompanied by a huge Turkic guard who dwarfed everyone around him. Greetings were exchanged and Shahid led the pair into the great hall.

“May I present His Excellency Tahir ibn ‘Abdallah, Governor of Khorasan,” The Sage announced to the gathered crowd of dignitaries, headed by Hussein, who acknowledged the greeting.

“Good day, Your Excellency, it is an honour to receive you today. I trust that your journey was a pleasant one.” Hussein bowed to the Governor.

“Ah, Hussein! It was thank you. How is the greatest archer in all Persia?” The Governor responded.

“I am afraid that was a long time ago Your Excellency,” Hussein replied, head still bowed.

“Yes, my friend but we taught those Oghuz a thing or two, did we not? And please, it’s Tahir! You and I go back a long way. Come here and look me in the eye, my friend.” Tahir stepped towards Hussein, placing his hands on his forehead.

“We do indeed Your…erm…Tahir. Welcome to Kashmar.” Hussein reciprocated by kissing the backs of the Governor’s hands.

“Normally, it would be a pleasure but I am sorry that on this occasion, the circumstances are not so pleasant.” Tahir said’ a trace of insincerity in his voice. The Elder knew his former fighting partner well. He broke contact and headed for the long table, laden with food and drink.

“Please Tahir, take a seat, we shall discuss the matter at hand. I  am sure that you are keen to return to Herat.” He pulled out a chair for the Governor, ushering away a servant who was about to do so.

“I am in no hurry, my friend. Arrangements are being made for the, erm, process to begin,” Tahir replied, pulling up his seat. He assessed the spread in front of him and nodded to the other man in approval.

“Let us not be hasty, Your Excellency, may we discuss the matter?” Hussein took a seat opposite the Governor. He acknowledged, Tahir’s endorsement.

“Of course, of course my friend.  We may discuss anything you like. What were you thinking of?” Tahir replied, tearing the leg from a large fowl. He took a bite and nodded, grabbing a handful of saffron rice. “Your food is exceptional, for infidels.” He laughed, spraying particles of half-chewed material across the banquet.

Hussein held his palms out, face up, and recited a short prayer, which was mirrored by the others attending.

“I have been busy, we both have, and our people have been extremely generous. In this chest is over fifty thousand Dirhams.” He replied, trying to hide his disgust.

“Interesting sum my friend. About one-tenth of the cost of my journey from Herat. Did you not see my caravan? Did you not get my message?” Another volley of masticated morsels accompanied Tahir’s rebut.

At this point, Shahid, who was sitting several places away from the dignitaries, stood up.

“If I may, Your Excellency, we are aware of your commitment to the Caliph, may Allah protect him. I am sure that you will be suitably compensated. Our offer is purely for your inconvenience,” he almost shouted towards the adversarial pair. Hussein turned, glared at the old man and opened his mouth to speak. However, he was silenced by a wave of the hand as Tahir responded.

“Ah, old man, about my message. How was it received?” Tahir addressed Shahid directly, ignoring Hussein. This angered the other man who in turn raised his hand in the direction of the elder, before he could answer.

“What you ask, my friend, is impossible. I cannot allow Soraya to leave us at such a young age.” Hussein replied glaring at Shahid. The conversation continued as both men addressed the old sage as if the other didn’t exist.

Tahir gave what he thought was the final word as Shahid desperately tried to interject.

“This is  too bad, my old companion. I was led to believe that the child was willing to accompany me back to Herat. It seems that I will have to hasten proceedings if I am to return today.” This was again addressed to the old sage.

“Wait! Please, Your Excellency, I am sure Hussein is merely after some reassurances as to Soraya’s welfare in Herat.” Shahid finally managed to force the words between the two giants of the room, just as Tahir motioned to leave the table. He sat down and the two men glared at Shahid. Thinking he had the chair, he began to speak.

“I  am sure…” the words were severed from his tongue as Hussein stood up. Tahir grabbed the arm of his chair and tensed.

“Perhaps in a few years, we can visit as a family?” For the first time, Hussein engaged Tahir directly and smiled.

“Welfare? Reassurances? I am afraid Hussein is missing the point. You have both been to my residence. Is it not to your satisfaction?  Is it not a suitable place to welcome a beautiful intelligent young woman? You intend to keep her here, in this place? Forgive me, I have work to do.” Tahir ignored his opposite number’s comment and spoke to Shahid direct. He grasped the arms of the chair, pushed it away and stood up again.

“Let us not be hasty,” Shahid replied, picking up a brass plate, seemingly dropping it on the floor as if by accident. He turned to the door at the rear of the hall. Both men followed his eyes. The door opened and Soraya entered, running to her father.

“Baba, Baba! See the camels beyond the walls!” She cried with excitement. “Hundreds of them and a carriage in the courtyard is the likes of which I have never seen!” She continued, dancing in front of Hussein. She still wore the flimsy white robe from the ceremony and her body was visible through the fine linen, backlit by the lamps.

“May I introduce Tahir ibn ‘Abdallah, the Governor of the region Azizam?” Shahid took the initiative as the two principals were stunned by the waif’s entrance for different reasons. Hussein glowered at the old man while Tahir ogled at the young woman.

“Soraya, please, leave us. We have important business here,” Hussein growled at the old sage.

“No, no! Leave the child be! Come here my girl. My how you’ve grown! You were just a baby the last time I saw you, when your father and I went off to fight in the north.” Tahir gestured the girl over to his side of the table. She followed his request, much to the annoyance of her father, bowed to the Governor and placed his hand on her forehead before kissing it.

“It is an honour to meet you, your excellency.” The child said to Tahir stooping lower. The Governor’s eyes widened at the sight revealed by her movement.

Hussein was incandescent. Still looking at Shahid he rasped, “Forgive me Tahir, my daughter has lessons.”

“Please! Please, Hussein! Give the child some space. I am sure she is well ahead in her studies. Is that not right my child?” Tahir took the child by the hands and stood up, towering over her.

Hussein stood up and slammed his fists on the table. He turned to Shahid with a look of thunder, “Sahid, please! Soraya, go with Eeam Shahid. NOW!”

The old man jumped. He shuffled around the table and took Soraya by the hand, “Come, Azizam, we shall continue our conversation. The one from yesterday?”

Soraya danced away with the old man scuttling behind her, “At last!” Shahid coughed loudly. “Oh, erm, good day My Lord – Baba, I mean Father.” She bowed again and left the room. It was Tahir’s turn to seethe.

“I am disappointed, Hussein. I thought we had an understanding.” He got to his feet and both men were standing a short space apart, separated by the laden table.

“You have no further business here, Your Excellency. You must do what you must do. My answer is no.” There was a finality in his voice which was accompanied by a wave of murmurs from the previously silent attendees.

Tahir turned to the giant guard who took several steps forward from his position at the door, “Mustafa, it appears we are leaving. Prepare the felling party.” Both men made for the door as the murmurs became wails and groans. Tahir turned to the interior of the room and bowed, “Goodbye my friend. I am sorry it has come to this.” Hussein returned the action and left by the door previously exited by his daughter and then old sage. He took the steps two-at-a-time, entered the library, slammed the door and sat down. Resting his head in his hand he whispered, “ forgive me Zoroaster.” Placing his head in his hands, he began to sob uncontrollably.

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