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The Doors of Tazir

*

By Matthew FrommPublished 2 months ago Updated about a month ago 17 min read
12

For the first time in a thousand years, the knock would be answered. Sha'tia knew what would happen as she descended the spiraling staircase into the dark, bellowing depths below the great sloping walls of the fortress Ark that dominated Tazir City’s skyline. The others of the Blessed One Hundred descended with her, not bothering to keep their voices down. After all, there was only one subject of discussion, and the discussions were not private.

“Tari’aka is certain it will happen. Only one Bench has defected.”

“Can you be sure? I heard there was discord in the Sea Merchants Bench. And what of the nobles?”

“An entire Bench could defect, and there will be enough votes to carry it.”

“Thank all that is holy; the gods are with us. It’s about time.”

The conversations were all the same as Sha'tia and the others entered the sacred Oota-E-Dar chamber. Benches lined the circular room with a sandstone ledge separating the gallery from what lay in the basin below.

It stood resolute in the middle of the sand pit, illuminated by torches hung from the stone walls. The sacred texts claimed it stood here since the day the Great Mother birthed the world. Five gray wooden planks banded in iron; the door stood silent in the pit’s center. Every grain pointed to it being as ancient as the texts said. Sha'tia had examined it thoroughly as they all had at one point or another. It made her skin crawl, and she knew she was not the only one with misgivings about the ancient thing. Sha’tia had once visited the great tomb of the first king of Tazir City, a small but impressive sandstone building just outside the Ark's great walls. The door before them reminded her of the banded iron gate to that tomb. One could open it and see clear through to the other side of the chamber, close it, pull on the frame, and walk away with the same conclusion for all their efforts–it was unremarkable. Except…

She shuffled toward her seat on the end of the bench, befitting her station. A thick coat of dust covered the seat, and she tried to no avail to wipe it off. From behind her came a gruff clearing of the throat, and, realizing she was holding up the assembly, Sha'tia took her seat. Sorry Mother, I know you slaved like a Gholam to have these libâs in perfect order. Today was only her second proceeding as a member of the Blessed Hundred since the Bench of Silk Weavers elected her from amongst her peers. Her nomination and swift acceptance to the Silk Weavers Bench had been a great blessing for her family; already, there were rumors that a proposal from a promising captain of humble birth named Pajon’tour would be imminent. Though not one of the Blessed One Hundred, it would certainly solidify their recent and unexpected rise.

The man who cleared his throat sat down next to her, groaning as he settled against the hardwood of the bench. Proud, powerful, and savvy, Fallor’allsalla had sat in his seat long enough to make an indent in the hardwood. As First Seat of the Noble Bench, Fallor’allsalla had held his seat since Sha'tia’s father had been in the womb. While loosely aligned to the interests of Tari’aka, the Noble Bench was one of the few he had been unable to gather personal support on despite plenty of attempted intrigue.

“Well, Sha'tia, my dear, I guess we’ll make some history today, shall we? May the gods choose to smile upon us.” the old man said, his voice surprisingly strong in stark contrast to his thinness, evident despite the billowing of his libâs. In the short time since her elevation, he had spoken to her maybe once.

“We shall, of course, Honorable.”

“And what do you think of all this business?”

Sha'tia prepared her answer. The conversation on her bench had been short. As the Tenth Seat of the Silk Weavers’ Bench, Sha'tia barely got a word in during the Bench discussions. They would vote in favor. Each Bench debated and came to a consensus in private before affirming their individual decisions before the assembled Blessed One Hundred. Of course, every member had the opportunity before the assembly to defect from their decision, but to do so was considered the height of cowardice and dishonor. Her eyes met Fallor’allsalla’s–his had grown cloudy in the long years of his life. Once, she would have found that face terrifying. Yet now, she felt his vast power and earned wisdom–as if he knew exactly what would come when they finally answered the knocking. Sha’tia readied herself to ask him his stance when…

THUM

THUM

THUM

The circular chamber fell into immediate silence. All eyes turned as one to the door. Sha'tia gave a silent prayer. It must truly be the portal to the gods. She could reason nothing else.

THUM

THUM

THUM

She stared at the door. They all did. Within the Madrasa were plenty of scrolls detailing supposed knocks upon the door in the Oota-E-Dar, most of the records predicated with “thought” or “maybe heard” next to the dates and times the Gholam’s cleaning the chamber reported them.

THUM

THUM

THUM

Only once before was there a confirmed knock.

That was until three days ago, when Ban’ika, Sixth Seat of the Sea Merchants Bench, had been in the chamber, entertaining some noblemen from the Isharana Kingdom, when they heard the knock. Their guests and retinue had testified to what they had heard–three echoing and hammering blows against the gray wood. Since then, they had all witnessed the irregular but frequent knocks. When they came, they were always furious and always in threes.

In the dancing shadows of the torchlight, the banded wooden door seemed to sway at each knock, though Sha'tia knew that was absurd. The door never actually moved.

“Well, it seems we are to begin,” Fallor’allsalla said to her as the first speaker stood.

The silence seemed to deepen as Tari’aka, First Seat of the Generals Bench, stood. A veteran of what seemed to be a hundred campaigns, she could not deny Tari’aka’s comeliness. Tall, lean, and with olive skin that the torchlight could not darken, everything about him gave the impression of light. The eldest son of a middling lord, Tari’aka’s rise had been meteoric. His status as an outsider endeared him to the masses, and Sha’tia had to admit that he had an air about him as if he was always a step ahead. His deep green eyes seemed to meet each and every member of the Blessed One Hundred as he began to speak.

“Blessed Chosen, Lords, Ladies. I thank thee for assembling today to discuss the most dire of questions–the question of our civilization’s survival.”

“And here he goes…” Fallor’allsalla said under his breath as Tari’aka continued his oration.

“Today, we can change the course of history. For years, the enemies on our borders have pressed in. Near daily, cavalcades of the Great Khan cross into our lands, raping our women, burning our crops, stealing our Gholam. My brave soldiers have done all they can. What is promised here today by our answer is a new day of glory for our people! If the gods are against us, I will bow to the wisdom of the priestly bench. But if they are indeed on our side, let us usher them forth and protect our children!”

A great cheer from the Generals bench was joined by the Tazir City Guard Bench, by the Caravansary Bench, by the Sea Merchants Bench, by the Lords of Bended Knee Bench, and by the Noble Bench…all but Fallor’allsalla. Even most of Sha'tia’s own Bench gave a wave of ascent.

Only the Madrasa Bench sat in uniform silence. Sha’tia knew of their objections, but she also knew they adhered to the will of the vote when it came to it. The scholars lacked the will to fight the settled decision openly.

THUM

THUM

THUM

“Even the door agrees with our cause!” Villiar, Fifth Seat of the Tazir City Guard Bench, shouted.

THUM

THUM

THUM

Sha'tia could not take her gaze off of the door. She was certain it shook this time as the knocks hammered through the chamber.

“The vote will pass! Open the door!”

“Answer the Gods!”

“Open!”

The chants rang around the chamber, drowning out even the incessant knocking. Tari’aka stood proudly, making no motion to calm the rest of The Blessed Hundred. Sha’tia clapped along politely with the rest of her bench, but the resounding cheer was getting annoying. Fallor’allsalla shook his head.

Finally satisfied with his reception, Tari’aka raised an arm, and silence returned. “The door will be opened. I cede the floor.”

“Just like you ceded the Pash’akahn Plateau…” Fallor’allsalla said under his breath.

“Excuse me?” Sha'tia said incredulously. A few heads snapped around at the utterance. Fallor’allsalla said nothing until attention returned to the door at the center.

“My son was there. It was not as Tari’aka and his sycophants claim.”

“That was a great victory, though. It kept the Khanate from burning Tazir City. This is known.”

“And in return, an entire generation of sons was sent to serve the Lords of Bended Knees. Tazir City itself was never truly threatened. In the end, we paid blood for a broken promise.”

Sha’tia’s blood boiled. She had lost an uncle in that campaign. It was a glorious service to the city and to the empire. How could someone as wise as Fallor’allsalla be so blind to that?

THUM

THUM

THUM

Tari’aka returned to his seat. Across the pit, Rheaka, First Seat of the Madrasa Bench, rose. She had yet to utter a word, and Sha’tia could already feel the derision in the air even if no jeers came. Plump and often condescending, she had few friends within and without this assembly.

“Friends, we come before you now, again, in warning,” Rheaka said, her jowls shaking as she mustered as much strength as she could into her voice. Tari’aka sat silent and rigid, as did the rest of his Bench. The Tazir City Guard Bench showed no such restraint and hissed at her before she finished her introduction. Rheaka sighed, her eyes dropping to the door, and she shook her head before continuing, “We say now, as we have said before, this will destroy us.”

THUM

THUM

THUM

The knocks pierced the decorum, and the chamber descended into madness.

“So will the Khan’s horde!”

“What does she know of war!”

“The Madrasa wished first to free the Gholams. Now, they wish us dead!”

Sha’tia felt her pulse quicken. It was always the Madrasa Bench descending. The enemies were practically at their doorstep. Every day for two years now, they drew ever closer…

To her surprise, it was Tari’aka who called for silence. With a single raise of his arm, the room quieted.

THUM

THUM

THUM

“Clever…” Fallor’allsalla said as the knocking finished off what Tari’aka had started.

Rheaka continued as best she could, “The writings are clear. Only once has the knock been answered. Only once, and what followed was a generation of silence. Our records are blank for a hundred years. If we open that door, we may be greeting our own destruction.”

A few of the priests nodded their heads sheepishly, but most dismissed the warning. Villiar stood, “and yet the door still stands, the city still stands. All you have are ancient words, nothing more. This is simply more fear-mongering! If the gods came in vengeance, why does the Oota-E-Dar still stand?”

Yi’ta, Second Seat of the Priest’s Bench, rose. Older even than Fallor’allsalla, no one dared interrupt Yi’ta, for neither his voice nor truly his spirit was like to carry much farther.

“The Priests have read the braziers and, on this very morning, the entrails of a goat. It is the Priestly Bench’s belief that my nephew is correct. The gods come to us now to, eh, fight for our cause.”

THUM

THUM

THUM

As if in agreement, the knocks resumed. Rheaka did not even bother to respond. She took her seat, head in hand. The time had nearly come.

Tari’aka rose, “The First Seat of the Madrasa Bench has yielded. If any others wish to speak in dissent. Come, the chamber is yours.”

In response, Fallor’allsalla rose.

A gasp echoed through the chamber; Sha’tia’s mouth was ajar. Villiar looked as if he was ready to jump into the pit and drag the old man into it. Instead, he settled on an insult.

“Sit down, old man. Your Bench is spoken for.”

“I will speak, you welp. I’ve had arguments with my wife that have lasted longer than your pathetic time at the tit of Tari’aka.”

Silence. Tari’aka’s eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. Villiar, however, fumed at the challenge. Sha’tia had to admit it was amusing watching Villiar try to reason out how best to fight his way around the cylindrical room. As he measured the height of the drop into the pit, Tari’aka spoke, “Let the First Seat of the Noble Bench speak. It is his right, as he well knows. As he says, he’s served long enough.”

THUM

THUM

THUM

“The rest of you have paid one ass too many on your dowry to this man.”

Gasps continued to echo around the circular chamber. Fallor’allsalla continued, “I now give my voice on this matter. The Noble Bench will vote ‘ay’ with one fewer member. Tari’aka promises you glory but will sign his deals with your blood. Before you vote, I ask you this. Of this great threat to us, how many of you have stood on the walls of this Ark, upon the walls of Tazir City proper, and witnessed the great war camps of the Khan outside the walls? How many have met one of his soldiers walking amongst the market stalls? If you have, speak. I ask you now, raise your voice.”

No response came. Sha’tia expected a sullen look from Tari’aka but was surprised to find something else on his face–elation.

THUM

THUM

THUM

As the knocks died down, Fallor’allsalla continued, “We are blind in our hubris. We know the power of the enemy before us, their true power, not what the false prophets have brought forth. We do not know what we will unleash here. It is beyond our imagination. You may proceed at your own peril, but I will no longer be a part of this Blessed One Hundred. I urge you now, those of you with sense, to depart with me. This is folly.”

He stood, yet no one else did. All eyes instead returned to Tari’aka.

Under a rain of jeers, Fallor’allsalla, First Seat of the Noble Bench, departed the chamber.

“Good riddance to cowards!” Villiar yelled. Despite the effort he put into his shout, Sha’tia could not help but see him as the young man that he was. There was now a pinkness to his face that had not been there before.

“Will anyone else speak?”

No one spoke.

Tari’aka rose, “Well then, I will speak in response to the coward who did not even have the dignity to face his referendum. The Noble Bench has shown their colors.” He pointed toward the empty seat beside her, and Sha’tia now understood his elation. “How many of you nobles hide behind this betrayal? Speak!”

The Third Seat stood; Sha’tia did not know his name, “Tari’aka, the First Seat did not speak for us. Our vote remains yes. We knew nothing of this intention.”

“We shall see. This must be addressed before we proceed. I motion to fill the First Seat by a full vote of the Blessed One Hundred and not of vote by Bench. I nominate Pajon’tour.”

Villiar stood, seconding the motion, as did Yi’ta. It happened so quickly that Sha’tia barely recognized the coup for what it was. Only one vote was necessary.

THUM

THUM

THUM

“And now, the time has come. If the ‘ays’ carry the day, we will answer the first knock after tomorrow's midday sun.”

The votes began. True to their word, only the Madrasa Bench voted in dissent. When the time came for Shi’tia to cast her decision, she rose.

THUM

THUM

THUM

She stared at the door, willing it to open, to make this decision for them all while they may be ignorant of their part in it.

The vote passed as expected. “A new age is upon us. Tomorrow, we will match to secure our kingdom, backed with the power of the gods whose blessing we know will shine upon us. Tonight, we prepare ourselves for tomorrow. I call this meeting adjourned.” Tari’aka said. No one would dare challenge him now that he had fealty from nine of the ten benches. Only the knocking on the door marked the end of their assembly.

THUM

THUM

THUM

True to his word, Tari’aka marched off with the sunrise to face the Khan with all his retainers. Yi’ta and other High Bench members joined him, except Villiar, who they chose to answer the knock. They left under a parade of cheers and waving banners on their campaign. They would open the door when the sun reached its apex. Those of the Madrasa Bench had even decided to attend, except their Tenth Seat, who would remain within the halls of that great place of learning, and the Ninth Seat, who they said, and Tari’aka agreed with much celebration of the compromise, should march with his army to make an account of it.

She found him near the southern gate.

Fallor’allsalla checked the lashings on a wagon laden with the goods of his house as she approached–one of the oldest and proudest houses Of Tazir City, all but destroyed in a single day. In some ways, she was surprised to still see him alive, yet no one paid him any mind. All were marching back toward the gates of the Ark and what was to transpire within.

“Come to see us off, eh?” Fallor’allsalla said, not looking at her as he finished his preparations.

“Where will you go?” Sha’tia asked, ignoring his question.

“Hopefully, somewhere quiet. I hear to the south, there are wonderful islands full of fruit where the desert meets the sea. I hope it is far enough away.”

She bit her lip. Something nagged at the back of her mind–the idea that no matter where Fallor’allsalla went, it would not be far enough away, no matter what they found when they answered the knock.

“What you did was very brave.”

The words tumbled out, and Fallor’allsalla paused. It came a moment later. He threw back his head and howled a laugh deep within the old man’s belly.

“And what would you have done were you me?”

Sha’tia did not answer, for she had none. How could she compare herself to someone of such experience? I am little more than the Tenth Seat of a lesser Bench. What could I have done?

“My lady,” he said, once he regained his composure, “it is not a brave man who tells the crew their ship is sinking when the holds are already full. At the risk of mixing my parables, we have all now cast our dice. I wish you good fortune. What’s to come of this city will be in your hands, it seems. I leave you with this, though. You have done what you have done, and soon things will transpire. Before someone else asks, I pray you give some thought as to what you will do should you find yourself here again.”

With that, he boarded his wagon. Two Gholam opened the small wagon gate, and Fallor’allsalla’s caravan departed into the endless desert. No one else jeered their departure; all attention now turned toward the Ark. All vigor and hatred of Fallar’allsalla, of the Khan to the north, now vanished in the singular excitement of the day. Sha’tia watched as he departed before turning back toward the Ark. The time had nearly come.

THUM

THUM

The gates closed with knocking bangs as the Gholam returned to their silent posts, never once testifying on what they witnessed.

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A/N

Final Word Count: 3302. This was written for Randy Baker's Prompted #2. Details on the challenge below:

If you've enjoyed this, please leave a like and an insight below. If you really enjoyed this, tips to fuel my coffee addiction are always appreciated. All formatting is designed for desktops. All my works can be found below:

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About the Creator

Matthew Fromm

Full-time nerd, history enthusiast, and proprietor of random knowledge. The best way to find your perfect story is to make it yourself.

Here there be dragons, and knights, and castles, and quests for entities not wished to be found.

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Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Expert insights and opinions

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Comments (9)

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  • Christy Munsonabout a month ago

    Congratulations on achieving third place! Your ability to captivate and compel me to read is impressive. Complex and lush, this story knocks on the door of mythology for me. Loved it!

  • Suze Kayabout a month ago

    This was so good, Matthew! I would read a hundred more blessed chapters of this political intrigue and balancing of power. Great characters, dialogue, and world-building here.

  • Gripping read… glad I didn’t read it last night… adrenaline levels might have kept me awake! You built another world in so few words. I really like your names too… other worldly.

  • J2 months ago

    Fantastically immersive and unique, yet familiar and relevant at the same time. Like a satire of an allegory that somehow rings just as true. Brilliant.

  • D. A. Ratliff2 months ago

    This is excellent writing. You drew me into your world immediately and intrigued by their cause. Such a new slant on the councils that we have become so familiar with from other stories. I am anxious for more of this fantastic story.

  • Lamar Wiggins2 months ago

    I love the world you've built here. Very ominous, suspenseful, mysterious and full of tension. And look how excited you got Amanda! Lol. This rivals some of your best work. Well done!!!

  • Amanda Starks2 months ago

    I. NEED. MORE. Please write more oh my gosh I NEED to know what is in that door!! Your high fantasy pieces always sweep me away, and each one is so creative...this was another spectacular addition!!

  • Hannah Moore2 months ago

    This is so artfully constructed, it feels like a solid foundation that can sustain much much more.

  • Test2 months ago

    This is a gripping narrative filled with political intrigue and tension. Matthew, you've crafted a compelling story that keeps the engaged from beginning to end. Well done!

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